Calif. city lat­est to give ‘sex­ist’ school dress codes a makeover

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - NATION & WORLD - By Jocelyn Gecker

ALAMEDA, Calif. — The re­laxed new dress code at pub­lic schools in the city of Alameda, across the bay from San Fran­cisco, is in­ten­tion­ally spe­cific: Midriff-bar­ing shirts are ac­cept­able at­tire, so are tank tops with spaghetti straps and other once-banned items such as mi­cro-mini skirts and short shorts.

As stu­dents set­tle into the new term, gone are re­stric­tions on ripped jeans and hood­ies. If stu­dents want to come to school in pa­ja­mas, that’s OK, too.

The new pol­icy amounts to a sweep­ing re­ver­sal of the mod­ern school dress code and makes Alameda the lat­est school district in the coun­try to adopt a more per­mis­sive pol­icy it says is less sex­ist.

Stu­dents who ini­ti­ated the change say many of the old rules that barred too much skin dis­pro­por­tion­ately tar­geted girls, while lan­guage call­ing such at­tire “dis­tract­ing” sent the wrong mes­sage.

“If some­one is wear­ing a short shirt and you can see her stom­ach, it’s not her fault that she’s dis­tract­ing other peo­ple,” said Henry Mills, 14, an in­com­ing fresh­man at Alameda High School who worked with a com­mit­tee of mid­dle school stu­dents and teacher ad­vis­ers to re­vise the pol­icy. “There was lan­guage that mainly af­fected girls, and that wasn’t OK.”

Dress codes have long been the ter­ri­tory of con­tention and re­bel­lion, but the re­ver­sal in Alameda shows a gen­er­a­tional shift that stu­dents and teach­ers say was partly in­flu­enced by broader con­ver­sa­tions on gen­der stem­ming from the #MeToo move­ment against sex­ual mis­con­duct and a na­tional resur­gence of stu­dent ac­tivism.

Ap­proved by the school board on a trial ba­sis over sum­mer break, the new dress code is stir­ring backto-school dis­cus­sions about what role schools should have in so­cial­iz­ing chil­dren.

There are crit­i­cal voices of the new dress code.

Math teacher Marie Hsu said she’s all for eq­uity but that the new rules send an un­in­ten­tional mes­sage that it’s fine, even ap­pro­pri­ate, to “sex it up.”

“It’s good not to pun­ish girls for be­ing dis­trac­tions. I fully, fully get that,” said Hsu, who teaches at Lin­coln Mid­dle School and is an Alameda res­i­dent with two young chil­dren. “But I think it’s ex­traor­di­nar­ily mis­led.”

Alameda mother Paula Walker says she may be “old school,” but she didn’t mind the bans against re­veal­ing cloth­ing.

“They say kids are start­ing ev­ery­thing younger, and I’m like, well, that’s be­cause you’re throw­ing it in their faces,” Walker said.

Dress codes and their sever­ity vary widely na­tion­wide. Twenty-four states have poli­cies that give lo­cal school dis­tricts the power to adopt their own dress codes or uni­form poli­cies, ac­cord­ing to the Ed­u­ca­tion Com­mis­sion of the States, a non­profit that tracks ed­u­ca­tion pol­icy.

Some have statewide poli­cies, like Arkansas, which passed a 2011 law re­quir­ing school dis­tricts “to pro­hibit the wear­ing of cloth­ing that ex­poses un­der­wear, but­tocks, or the breast of a fe­male.”

Alameda’s new dress code was mod­eled after a sug­gested pol­icy by the Ore­gon chap­ter of the Na­tional Or­ga­ni­za­tion for Women, drafted in 2016 to “up­date and im­prove” dress codes, avoid rules that re­in­force gen­der stereo­types and min­i­mize un­nec­es­sary dis­ci­pline or “body sham­ing.”

Port­land, Ore.’s pub­lic school district adopted a new pol­icy in 2016, fol­lowed by Evan­ston, Ill., in 2017, both of which in­cor­po­rated NOW’s sug­ges­tions.

Stu­dents in Alameda, Port­land and Evan­ston have free­dom to wear any­thing as long as it in­cludes a bot­tom, top, shoes, cov­ers pri­vate parts and does not con­tain vi­o­lent im­ages, hate speech, pro­fan­ity or pornog­ra­phy.


Schools have changed their dress codes after com­plaints the rules un­fairly tar­geted girls.

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