Should Your Hairstyle Be A Constitutional Right?

This lesson uses the strategies of “student questioning for purposeful learning” (SQPL) and jigsaw grouping to engage students in examining Constitutional issues related to school-based grooming policies.
Grade Level


In this lesson, students will:

  • Develop a deeper understanding of freedoms guaranteed by the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the Constitution;
  • Understand how government interests (the interests of public schools) can sometimes contradict with those freedoms;
  • Read and interpret informational texts with purpose, and
  • Share what they’ve learned verbally and in writing.
Essential Questions
  • Does living in a free country mean we should be able to do anything we want?
  • How should we balance the need for social order against the need to protect individual liberties?


Teaching the Constitution can sometimes be a bore—for educators and for students. This lesson posits the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the Constitution within a framework that’s likely to resonate with students: Can schools dictate their hairstyles?



freedom of expression | frēdəm  əv  ik spre sh ən | (noun) Extends from the First Amendment of the Constitution, which guarantees freedom of speech. Court decisions have expanded the concept beyond mere verbal communication; protected speech now includes non-verbal expressions as well, i.e., wearing a symbol on one's clothing.

liberty interest | libərtē  int(ə)rist | (noun) The guarantee that the government will not deny or interfere with individuals’ freedoms, especially without due process.

due process | d(y)oō  prä ses | (noun) The requirement that laws and regulations must be related to a legitimate government interest (i.e., crime prevention) and will not contain provisions that result in the unfair or arbitrary treatment of individuals

equal protection interest | ēkwəl  prə tek sh ən  int(ə)rist | (noun) The guarantee that the government will treat an individual or class of individuals the same as it treats other individuals or classes in like circumstances


Suggested Procedures

1.  Find a partner and work together for five minutes to record at least three questions you have about the following statement: “Schools should be able to prohibit inappropriate student hairstyles on campus.”

2.  Share your questions with the rest of the class. List the questions on the board or on an overhead. If another pair already has raised one of your questions, place a star by it. Are there any other questions needing added to the list?

3.  As you read the Can Schools Dictate Your Hair? handout, look for answers to the questions on the board, especially ones with one or more stars. Which questions were answered satisfactorily? Which were not? Why?

4. After this brief class discussion, break into four inquiry groups—a freedom of expression group, a liberty interest group, an equal protection interest group and a due process group. Each of your inquiry groups has a particular task in examining the news stories (Parents Upset Over New Hair Policy and Kicked Out for Pink Hair):

  • If you are in the “freedom of expression” group, identify the stories related to that theme. What claims are students making, if any, about hair policies’ impact on their ability to express themselves?
  • If you are in the “liberty interest” group, identify the ways the stories relate to that theme. What claims are students making, if any, about the ways hair policies are interfering with their individual freedom?
  • If you are in the “equal protection interest” group, identify ways the stories relate to that theme.  What claims are students making, if any, about the ways hair policies may impact individuals and groups differently, i.e., boys and girls, cultural groups, etc.?
  • If you are in the “due process” group, identify ways the stories relate to that theme. What is the compelling government interest in the hair policies? What are the public schools trying to accomplish with them?

Your group has 30 minutes. Refer back to definitions in the Can Schools Dictate Your Hair? handout as necessary. Each member of the group should jot down notes as you go along.

(Note: Consider offering the GIST template, above, as a way to help groups organize information from the news stories quickly and succinctly. For more information on using GIST, see Lesson Plans at the Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory site.)

5.  Create new groups of four so that one of you represents the “freedom of expression,” “liberty interest,” “equal protection interest” and “due process” groups, respectively. Each member should take about three minutes to share findings from his or her inquiry group. After each member has had a turn, refer back to the questions listed on the board. Spend three minutes discussing: Which questions have been answered satisfactorily? Which have not? Why? (Note: Ask small groups to report back to the class to briefly share outstanding questions identified in their discussions.)



Individually, spend 10 minutes responding to the following writing prompt: What steps should schools take to create hair policies that respect the Constitutional rights of students and support school environments that are focused on learning? This is an opportunity to demonstrate the knowledge you’ve gained about how schools should balance students’ individual freedoms with the need to have social order in schools.

(Note: Teachers also may consider the following informal measurement questions to evaluate student performance: Did students demonstrate qualities of effective group work? Did students analyze and share appropriate information in their jigsaw groups?)



ELL/ESL (Grades 4-8 and 9-12)

Goal 2, Standard 1: To use English to achieve academically in all content areas: Students will use English to interact in the classroom

Goal 2, Standard 2: To use English to achieve academically in all content areas: Students will use English to obtain, process, construct, and provide subject matter information in spoken and written form


Extension Activity

Spend a couple of minutes reviewing your school’s dress code or grooming policy and think about the ways it relates to the themes covered in this lesson. Next, create an original piece of writing that applies the lesson’s themes to your school’s policy. Using the RAFT approach, select:

= Role (Are you writing as a student? Assuming the role of the principal? A parent?)

= Audience (To whom are you writing? Are you writing to students? The principal? The school board? )

= Format (What format is most appropriate for your role and audience? A memo? A public statement? A speech? An email?)

= Topic (Are you writing in support, or opposition to, our school’s policy?)

Please include a RAFT summary at the top of your piece.

(Note: If students are interested, teachers can share their writings with the individuals who set the grooming or dress code policies of the school as a way to initiate a conversation about potential changes that may be needed.)

Group of adults listening to one person speaking.

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