Every day, I walk into Stuyvesant High School donning a fitted cap showing my support of either the New York Giants or the New York Knicks. The teachers of my first two classes request that I keep my cap off—regardless of their fandom—and I comply. However, I’m glad to keep it on during the rest of the day, when my other teachers don’t mind. Out of respect, I’ve never questioned the instruction to bare my head. However, out of curiosity for a better understanding of this rule’s origin, I’ve researched it on my own.
In the New York City Department of Education’s Discipline Code (Effective September 2010) B09, “Wearing clothing, headgear (e.g. caps or hats), or other items that are unsafe or disruptive to the educational process” is listed under the category of “Infractions – Insubordinate Behaviors.” There is no reason listed that explains why wearing caps or hats is unsafe or disruptive. It merely states that the act is an infraction. This rule has been in effect for years, and few have ever questioned it.
While researching why this could be an issue, I found that many educators on forums discuss the possibility of hats and caps being linked to gangs. They claim that certain colored hats represent certain gangs, which could lead to violence in classrooms. However, while bandanas and sports apparel can represent similar symbols, there is no outward statement against those. Another view is that the brims of hats cover students’ eyes, allowing them to sleep in class or avoid eye contact with a teacher. My solution is that a teacher can tell a student to wear his or her cap backwards, with the brim facing away from the teacher. Although it may seem unorthodox, it would be a simple solution to this concern.
An aspect I find unnerving about this issue is that it applies to only one gender. Rarely does a teacher scold a girl in class for wearing her beret, cap or bandana. If the DOE rule claims that hats are “unsafe or disruptive,” the rule should apply to females, as well. In these scenarios, the teacher seems to have a lot of leeway in deciding whether a student should be penalized or not, which gives the rule little weight and scarce validity. I suggest that the DOE clarify the conditions of the “hat” rule. If not, then female and male students alike should be allowed to wear their hats as they please.
The New York City Department of Education’s “Bill of Student Rights and Responsibilities,” section II (The Right to Freedom of Expression and Person), rule eight, claims that students have the right to “determine their own dress within the parameters of the Department of Education policy on school uniforms and consistent with religious expression, except where such dress is dangerous or interferes with the learning and teaching process.” Again, while there is a statement of this supposed interference with the learning process, no evidence is given to explain how this interference occurs. Here, the DOE blatantly uses circular logic to restrict true freedom of expression.
I have no problem following any rule given by the New York City DOE, as long as it is fair and just. I will not picket, nor will I boycott a rule that has little effect on my daily school routine. However, I will question this rule and any other that has little justification and such faulty logic. If the Department of Education is going to restrict our apparel based on nothing at all, what will it take away from us next?
There are many reasons that a student would want to wear a hat and that he or she should not be forced against it. According to psychologists and pediatricians, many children wear hats as a “security blanket,” especially in middle school, which is a major transition period in an adolescent’s life. Even if a child wears one merely for fashion purposes, and not psychological reasons, it doesn’t mean that he or she should be told not to do so.
To avoid the whole conflict, some people may argue that kids need not wear their hats in the first place. But in modern society, there is no valid reason that they should do so, leaving many students across the nation contemplating why they must take off their hat in class. A slight change in school policy would allow students to have their full freedom of expression. And I tip my hat to that.