DRESS CODE FOR PUBLIC SCHOOLS

Date:

Most middle and high schools have a dress code governing what students can and cannot wear. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, about 15 per cent of America’s high/combined schools have strict dress codes requiring school uniforms; however, other schools still have many rules and regulations for appropriate clothing.

[adinserter name=”Block 2″]

School Appropriate Dress Includes Decency and Modesty

Many dress codes call for clothing teens wear to school to be reasonably modest, meaning clothes cover the body well, and decent. Guidelines surrounding modesty seek to minimize distraction and improve the safety of students but are often open to interpretation based on personal values.

[adinserter name=”Block 2″]

Skirts and Shorts

Many schools define the appropriate length of skirts and shorts by the “fingertip rule.” For example, the Socorro Independent School District states, “The length of skirts, skorts, and shorts must extend below the student’s fingertips when the student’s arms are extended at his/her sides.” While many districts don’t distinguish between boy and girl guidelines, some do have separate sections for boys and girls. The shorts regulation, however, is the same for both: “Shorts for boys and girls…must be knee-length and be worn above the hips.”

Tank Tops and Off-Shoulder Shirts

Spaghetti straps, strapless tops, muscle shirts, off-shoulder shirts, and tank tops are not allowed in many school guidelines, particularly when they expose the entire shoulder or bra strap for girls and nipples or abdominal sides for boys. Chehalis Middle School in Washington State doesn’t allow tops that have less than “two fingers width of coverage on the shoulders” for any student, while NCCSC further stipulates shirts that are cut like “A-style undershirts or beachwear” can’t be worn by boys.

Leggings

Many schools require Spandex leggings, or yoga pants, to be worn under skirts, long tops, or other clothing that covers the bottom and genital region. Warren Central School states in their dress code that “tights, leggings, or other types of hosiery must be accompanied by a fingertip length or longer top or dress.”

[adinserter name=”Block 2″]

Pyjamas

Pyjamas are often allowed for spirit days at school but tend to be discouraged otherwise because they violate other dress code rules like no wearing of baggy clothes or tank tops. Southern High School lumps pyjama pants in with other types of bottoms that may show skin through the fabric when excluding them from acceptable attire. Coast High School includes pyjamas in the category of provocative clothing.

[adinserter name=”Block 2″]

No Vulgarity

Schools generally do not allow vulgar or obscene words or graphics on clothing. California’s Edison High School defines vulgarity as apparel that “depict sexually suggestive expressions or actions, profanity, obscenity, drugs, alcohol, or tobacco, or which degrade the integrity of individual groups.”

dress code for public schools
dress code for public schools

No Bare Midriffs

Bare midriffs are often not allowed for boys wearing shirts cut off at the sides or girls wearing crop tops. Salinas High School says “all parts of stomach and back must be fully covered without pulling or tugging.”

[adinserter name=”Block 2″]

Keep Undergarments Hidden

Bra straps under tank tops, underwear beneath baggy pants, or even undergarments showing through rips and holes in the clothing are prohibited. The Oregon NOW Model Student Dress Code is meant to be modernized and inclusive but prohibits visible underwear with the distinction that undergarment waistbands and straps showing are not a violation.

Necklines

Necklines must be modest. Many schools prohibit necklines that can expose cleavage or too much of the chest. For example, Carlisle School bans any tops that display cleavage on campus at any time.

[adinserter name=”Block 2″]

Dress Codes and Safety

School dress codes geared towards safety focus on a few areas including gang activity, theft, violence, and physical safety. They seek to eliminate clothing under which students can hide weapons as well as clothes that may make students more accident-prone. Some apparel is also banned because it may cause damage to school property. These may include items such as spiked jewellery and wallet chains.

DRESS CODE FOR PUBLIC SCHOOLS
DRESS CODE FOR PUBLIC SCHOOLS

No Gang-Related Clothing

These items may include specific colours, head coverings like a do-rag, jewellery, emblems, or graffiti of any kind. James Logan High School prohibits any gang-related clothing on school property or at school-sponsored events. Since gang identification will vary regionally, the specific codes will be different depending on gang activity in the area.

[adinserter name=”Block 2″]

No Overly Bulky Clothing

This might include heavy coats, trench coats, or baggy clothing of any kind and is meant to help schools prevent students from hiding weapons. Thompson Middle School says students can’t wear “extremely baggy” clothing and must keep all outerwear, including coats and zipped-hood sweatshirts, in their lockers during the school day.

 

Appropriate Footwear

While the definition of appropriate footwear varies, commonly banned shoes include anything without a backstrap or that poses a falling risk. For example, a school may not allow flip flops, platform shoes, or shoes with wheels for safety reasons like the ability to respond appropriately during fire alarms or other emergencies.

[adinserter name=”Block 2″]

Preventing Distractions with School Appropriate Dress

Some apparel isn’t allowed in school because it is considered a distraction from the education process.

Hats

This often includes hats, scarves, and visors, but would not include head coverings worn for religious reasons. Districts such as the Martinez School District don’t allow hats indoors as part of their dress code, but they are legally obligated to allow students to wear hats during outdoor activities for sun protection.

[adinserter name=”Block 2″]

Sunglasses

Sunglasses can interrupt the learning process because it may be difficult for the student to see indoors and for the teacher to ensure the student is paying attention. Voorhees High School does not allow students to wear sunglasses unless prescribed by a doctor for a legitimate reason.

Piercings

Many schools prohibit visible facial or body piercings and gauging, except for pierced ears. Some district’s feel extreme body piercings may cause a distraction or threaten student safety, so they are not allowed.

[adinserter name=”Block 2″]

dress code for public schools
dress code for public schools

5 Benefits of a School Dress Code

Over the past decade, the school dress code has become an increasingly common policy in many communities worldwide. As opposed to the requirements of students to wear specific clothing in the form of uniforms, dress codes provide guidelines through which students are allowed to wear any clothing that meets the school’s requirements, whether they pertain to the colour, style or cut of the clothing. Consequently, school dress codes are designed to create a certain atmosphere in a school while providing students with a bit of freedom of expression through their wardrobe.

[adinserter name=”Block 2″]

And yet, while many parents applaud the demand of school dress codes as a way to ensure that their children are dressed properly, others question whether the requirement of dress codes in school eliminates their child’s individualism.

Experts claim that there are many benefits to school dress codes. Here are some of the most important advantages:

1) A dress code promotes a more serious school atmosphere which emphasizes academics and promotes good behaviour.

2) Dress codes have proven to increase student achievement by encouraging students to concentrate more on their studies and less on their wardrobe. A de-emphasis on clothing can also save money, as there will be less pressure to keep up with expensive trends and fashions.

[adinserter name=”Block 2″]

3) Dress codes in school settings reduce social conflict and peer pressure that may be associated with appearance.
4) Studies indicate that a school dress code can reduce the prevalence of certain behaviours which are often expressed through wardrobes such as violence or promiscuity.
5) As opposed to uniforms, dress codes still allow students to wear what they want which leaves students with a sense of choice and expression.

 

DRESS CODE FOR PUBLIC SCHOOLS
DRESS CODE FOR PUBLIC SCHOOLS

A dress code in action

Lincoln High School (a pseudonym) serves 1,200 students in a small Midwestern urban community. Lincoln’s student body is about 40% White, 35% Black, 10% Latino, and 10% multiracial; about two-thirds of the students are classified as economically disadvantaged.

[adinserter name=”Block 2″]

In response to school and community members’ concerns about racial inequities in the local schools, a Social Justice Task Force was formed to investigate the problem and develop strategies to address it. This included training for all school employees at which they discussed issues at their schools where race may be a factor, implicitly or explicitly. When a task force member informally asked students what issues fit this description, their immediate response was, “The dress code!”

A different type of dress code is needed that helps schools and students to challenge dominant narratives of who they are or could be.

Share this on 

To better understand the students’ concern, we surveyed all Lincoln High School students (receiving 384 responses) and randomly sampled 13 teachers to interview. The survey asked students about the frequency with which they followed the dress code, the degree to which they were disciplined about their dress, and their opinions about the dress code more generally. Teacher interviews focused on their beliefs about the dress code, in general, and in relation to race and gender. Ultimately, we hoped to answer the question: To what degree, if at all, does Lincoln High School’s dress code disproportionately affect students based on their gender and/or race?

[adinserter name=”Block 2″]

Disproportionate enforcement by race and gender

Lincoln’s dress code forbids clothing that administrators deem too revealing, with specific bans on spaghetti straps and tube tops, visible midriffs or cleavage, and dresses, skirts, and shorts that do not extend past the middle knuckle when arms are straight down. Undergarments (including bra straps) should not be visible, and leggings are prohibited. Head coverings that are not for religious purposes are also not allowed.

[adinserter name=”Block 2″]

In most cases, students reported similar frequencies of dress code infractions, with White females and Black males reporting slightly higher rates and White males slightly lower rates. This would lead one to expect that dress code infractions would line up with their representation within the school. However, when we look at the likelihood of students being “coded” (i.e., having a school adult ask them to remove or cover a clothing item), we see a different picture. Black males, Black females, and multiracial females stand out as students who reported being disproportionately coded. On the other hand, White females and White males were much less likely to report being coded. Essentially, survey responses showed that students of colour are more likely to be coded for breaking the dress code even if they do so at a similar rate to White students. The disproportionality is even more striking when looking at which students report being disciplined, which may involve a suspension, detention, or being sent home. While only 30 of the 384 survey participants reported being disciplined, they were overwhelmingly Black and multiracial, male and female.

[adinserter name=”Block 2″]

Another way to look at these data is through the concept of relative risk or the probability of an event occurring for one subgroup in comparison to that of the group at large. A relative risk score of 1.0 means that there is no difference in terms of the probability of the event occurring to an individual in the subgroup versus in the group at large. Looking at the data through this lens clearly shows that Black males and females and multiracial females report a greater risk of being coded and that Black and multiracial males and multiracial females report a greater risk of being disciplined.

[adinserter name=”Block 2″]

Looking at Lincoln High School’s dress code from the perspectives of students and teachers, it quickly becomes clear that racial and gender narratives are at play in students’ experiences of the dress code. Students’ and teachers’ perspectives illustrate two narratives about how students of colour are affected differently by the seemingly neutral policy. For males of colour, the dress code and the ways it is enforced are related to the larger U.S. narrative that criminalizes them. On the other hand, females of colour are sexualized by the dress code and blamed for creating a negative school climate.

DRESS CODE FOR PUBLIC SCHOOLS
DRESS CODE FOR PUBLIC SCHOOLS

 

Criminalization of males of colour

Students and teachers of all genders and racial/ethnic backgrounds reported that males of colour were most likely to be coded, even if White males had similar dress code infractions. Several males of colour said they believed the school was positioning them as criminals or potential criminals. One Black male student thought the rule against hoods was because teachers and administrators were worried that students might “have a weapon in our hoods.” Another male of colour, who liked to wear a do-rag to school, said he was always told to “take it off ’cause the cameras can’t recognize me.” He wondered how a do-rag could prevent security personnel from recognizing him when the head covering “doesn’t even cover nothing but my haircut.”

[adinserter name=”Block 2″]

The dress code as enforced treated males of colour as potential threats who needed to be watched over and disciplined.

Share this on 

Teachers said that there was a need to be able to identify students from the cameras or from a distance, with one sharing an example of a time when a few individuals (not enrolled students) entered the school to start a fight with students. Students, however, found that the targeting of males of colour for the head covering rule weakened this argument. If only males of colour are coded, while White males wear hats or hoods without comment, then it is clear, to them, that the rule is not about safety and that the issue is not about the consistency of enforcement. Rather, the dress code as enforced treated males of colour as potential threats who needed to be watched over and disciplined.

dress code for public schools
dress code for public schools

Sexualization and blame of females of colour

Female students consistently reported that the dress code sexualized them, treating common U.S. clothing options, such as a spaghetti strap tank top, as though they were revealing, alluring outfits that distracted male students from learning. Samantha Parsons (2017), who developed a dress code advocacy guide based on her experiences advocating for a gender-neutral policy in her own community, found that dress codes across the country promote narratives of females as objects and potential victims of harassment, assault, and rape because of their clothing choices (and not the actions of their perpetrators).

[adinserter name=”Block 2″]

Lincoln’s female students believed that they were coded more often partly because of the number of specific rules related to clothing items traditionally worn by young women in the United States, such as skirts and certain styles of shirts. A large number of rules about what they wear, however, did not mean that females of all races were similarly affected, as females of colour, especially those who were Black or multiracial, were disproportionately represented in reports of being coded and formally disciplined. When females of colour, breaking the dress code at similar rates to white students, get coded more often, it suggests that teachers and administrators see their clothing as too “revealing,” while White female clothing is acceptable. In other words, females of colour may be seen as sexual and thus a problem, where White females are not. This experience of females of colour presents an example of what Kimberlé Crenshaw has called intersectionality, a way to understand how racism and sexism interact. According to Crenshaw (1989), the “intersectional experience is greater than the sum of racism and sexism” (p. 140) because racism and sexism are compounded, creating a system of structural oppression whose effects are particularly intense for women of colour.

DRESS CODE FOR PUBLIC SCHOOLS
DRESS CODE FOR PUBLIC SCHOOLS

By insisting that female bodies are the problem, and focusing specifically on female bodies of colour, the school perpetuates the mentality that their bodies are primarily sexual.

[adinserter name=”Block 2″]

Share this on 

Body type may also be a factor in who is disciplined for dress code violations. One teacher noted, “Dresses are a little touch and go because of girls’ shapes. Typically if you are much smaller, it doesn’t look as risqué.” In other words, two girls could be wearing the same exact piece of clothing, but depending on their body type, one would be out of dress code — and in most cases, those being identified as out of dress code, according to students and teachers, were females of colour.

One teacher reflected on this, sharing that he does not code female students because “If I ask a girl to change . . . I am afraid of the perception that will put on me as a male teacher. I don’t want to be accused of being a pervert.” However, this teacher may be an outlier, as overall the teachers and administrators at Lincoln High School did not express concerns about sexualizing females of colour. Yet by insisting that female bodies are the problem, and focusing specifically on female bodies of colour, the school perpetuates the mentality that their bodies are primarily sexual.

[adinserter name=”Block 2″]

Moving forward

While several teachers acknowledged concerns about the dress code, some continued to believe the primary issue was not about race, gender, or their intersections, but an issue of inconsistent enforcement. This belief seems to be prevalent across the United States, as Lincoln High School’s dress code is pretty typical. However, Lincoln’s students, and students across the country, recognize that the inconsistency is not a result of random chance but of teachers and administrators’ beliefs about children — that boys of colour are potential criminals and that girls of colour are sexual beings. Instead of tinkering with specific rules or training teachers to enforce this dress code better, a different type of dress code is needed that helps schools and students to challenge dominant narratives of who they are or could be.

DRESS CODE FOR PUBLIC SCHOOLS
DRESS CODE FOR PUBLIC SCHOOLS

This work is already underway in several districts across the country, including San José Unified School District (SJUSD) in California and Portland Public Schools (PPS) in Oregon. SJUSD administrators are addressing the ways school dress codes sexualize female students by eliminating gender-specific language in their schools’ dress codes. Instead of calling out specific garments typically worn by girls, such as spaghetti straps or tube tops, SJUSD’s new dress code (2018) states that “Clothing must cover the chest, torso, and lower extremities.” In addition, the district’s written policy begins with the statement that “the responsibility for the dress and grooming of a student rests primarily with the student and his or her parents or guardians and that appropriate dress and grooming contribute to a productive learning environment.” And, importantly, the policy recognizes that asking students to change their clothes takes away from learning time, and it asks administrators to be attentive to how their decisions negatively impact students’ educational opportunities.

[adinserter name=”Block 2″]

Portland Public Schools, meanwhile, has taken steps to allow head coverings while also making it possible for security personnel to easily identify students. Their dress code states, “Hats and other headwear must allow the face to be visible and not interfere with the line of sight to any student or staff. Hoodies must allow the student to face and ears to be visible to staff” (PPS, 2018). This type of rule allows males of colour to wear do-rags or baseball caps, which many students at Lincoln High School preferred to do to cover up their hair, while still enabling school personnel to easily identify them.

dress code for public schools
dress code for public schools

Any adoption of a dress code must involve open discussions about how different individuals interpret subjective concepts such as “professional,” “distracting,” and “good taste.” Adults need to be aware of their beliefs about children and young adults and how their beliefs influence their practice: Which students do they call out? Whom do they see as criminals? Whom do they see as distracting? Which infractions do they choose to not see? If a school community fails to ask these questions, female and male students of colour will most likely continue to be sexualized or criminalized at the expense of their education.

[adinserter name=”Block 2″]

 

69 COMMENTS

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Share post:

Subscribe

spot_imgspot_img

Popular

More like this
Related

US justice officials outline Trump’s ‘brazen’ takeover bid

Lawmakers investigating the attack on the US Capitol on...

Police kill bandit, recover 2 guns, motorcycle in Kaduna

Police in Kaduna State have killed one bandit and...

Bridging Nigeria’s broadband gap for economic growth

Broadband Internet is high-speed Internet access that is always...

UK court denies Ekweremadu, wife bail over child trafficking, organ harvesting

Former Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, alongside his wife,...