Many parents and school age kids can’t help but ask themselves if schools are overstepping their bounds by enforcing piercing rules. Is it within the school’s rights to make judgements on whether or not kids can have a piercing?
Piercings are not protected by the first amendment. They are a non-verbal form of communication, but since they do not communicate a specific message, they are not protected by the freedom of speech. As a matter of fact, courts see them as a possible disruption and health risk, which is why schools can make rules about piercings.
So, should schools have piercing rules? The answer is found in the following questions:
Can piercing be a disruption? Pierced body parts can certainly be a disruption in class. Just as when in any public place, it is hard not to notice someone with excessive piercing, so it is at school. In addition, discussion of piercing and where people have things pierced can disrupt a class lecture, etc. Many school have found that students will grasp any excuse for disruption, and piercings are a ready excuse. So, if you want school to be a good learning environment, eliminating potential disruptions is a plus. Thus, for argument sake, having dress code rules that include piercings is not only acceptable, but helpful.
Do piercings cause disruptions at school?
Can piercing be a health risk? Pierced body parts can certainly be a health risk. Even the ears being pierced can cause potential risk. When students pierce things like their tongues, cheeks, upper ears, etc. they run the risk of infection, irritation, swelling, and more. A student with a swollen or infected tongue would be unable to give an oral presentation in a class, or participate in grammar exercises in a foreign language class. So, the health risk of piercings can get in the way of classes running smoothly, and can cause kids to miss school. Thus, setting rules about piercing can help with attendance and class participation, two things schools should be concerned about.
Is it lawful for schools to have piercing rules? The law is rather unclear on piercing rules, at least in some states. While piercing is not protected speech, and thus is lawful with a first amendment argument, it can be considered unlawful if schools try to differentiate between genders as far as what piercings are allowed. You could make a case that allowing girls to wear earrings, for example, and not boys, is gender discrimination. However, across the country, many courts have rejected this argument, because of what is standard in dress codes, and considered normal and acceptable. However, not every state has a clear decision on this, so you could go after your school for gender discrimination if you really wanted to.
One thing to keep in mind is that courts often look at the need for safety and discipline in school, and will not overturn a dress code readily unless you can prove that it violates your religious or political views.