Discriminatory Dress Codes – More Questions than Answers

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September 26, 2016 by Good Teachers Work Hard

Ask any administrator or teacher about why a dress code has been enacted at school, and you will receive an answer outlining the need for a safe and comfortable learning environment. But a safe and comfortable environment for who?

In my experience as a secondary teacher in multiple states, I have personally witnessed some alarming trends regarding dress codes. Here are some notable observations:

  • Female students are disproportionally sent to the office, library, guidance office, in school suspension (ISS) room, or suspended out of school for dress code violations because dress codes have more restrictions for clothing traditionally worn by females

Many dress codes have restrictions on clothing such as tank tops, short skirts (the word ‘short’ is the subject of its own controversy), exposed shoulders or collarbones, crop tops, tops with spaghetti straps, halter tops, strapless dresses, leggings, yoga pants, and clothing with any transparent material (including sleeves). When female students wear one of these “offensive” articles of clothing, many are told that their clothes are affecting the concentration level of boys in school. Are you serious? In case you haven’t picked up on the obvious, that statement sends two very direct messages to women: you are objectified by male students and your education is not as important as that of a male. If boys have sagging pants, why are they simply told to pull them up, while girls who violate the dress code are forced to go to the office, call their parents, and have alternate clothing brought to school?

Why aren’t male students being taught to concentrate on school instead of their female counterparts? What happens when the school environment is so uncomfortable that students can’t concentrate because of the heat? Should students be allowed to wear certain clothing when unusual circumstances like that arise? If someone was wearing a tank top in a 95 degree classroom, is that truly the distraction? You don’t think that ever happens? Read about one example here.

  • While female dress code restrictions focus on skin exposure, male dress code restrictions focus on gangs and violence

After examining hundreds of school dress codes, many do not mention a plethora of restrictions for males (with the exception of baggy pants), but instead focus on clothing that contains references to drugs, guns, alcohol, and violence. Really? Do school administrators really believe that gangs, violence, and teenage drinking are male problems, while exposing flesh is a female problem? If so, they should either open their eyes or find a new career, because they are clearly clueless.

  • What about transgender and LGBTQ discrimination?

Now we really open Pandora’s box for administrators. I have worked for administrators who refused to believe gay and/or transgendered students were even a part of their school population. Are these people capable of placing their own biases aside for the good of the student body? After all, aren’t schools supposed to positively focus on students? Are transgendered students allowed to wear skirts to school when their legal sex is male? What if the skirt adheres to the dress code? When a male student is asked to change out of a skirt, is that protecting the student or is it a form of bullying? The New York Times examined this controversial subject, and you can read about it here.

  • Body shaming doesn’t just happen inside the classroom

At proms across the country, teachers and administrators line up outside the prom to determine whether or not a formal dress is deemed appropriate. Appropriate by what standards? Are there written policies on appropriate prom attire or are administrators making up the rules as they go? The latter is completely unacceptable. Pulling girls aside in front of their peers, dates, and teachers and preventing entry to a prom is an atrocity. It’s no wonder that websites such as change.org have multiple dress code petitions at any given time.

            Why do I feel so strongly about this topic? One of the areas in education that needs to be addressed is the bullying that goes on between schools and students. Yes – I said bullying. Forcing a student to sit in the office for hours while waiting for a parent to leave work, grab a change of clothes at home, and deliver them to the school is embarrassing, humiliating, and preventing that student from learning — all characteristics of bullying. Is that really the objective of our schools? Shouldn’t they be part of the solution, and not part of the problem?

            By the way, if you want to read a school dress code that actually states students must wear appropriate undergarments, read it here. How does the school district plan on enforcing that?


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