This School District With Almost No Dress Code Restrictions Sends A Very Important Message

“Other people’s sexual thoughts are being impressed on girls who are just wearing their soccer shorts and going to math.”

In many states, back-to-school means back to strict dress codes that dictate what students can or can't wear. However, for one school district in California, students will no longer have to put more thought into their attire than their assignments.

Starting this semester, the Alameda Unified School District in Alameda, Calif. will no longer punish students who show up to school wearing clothing that was previously deemed inappropriate. While the district expect students to dress respectfully, they will be free to wear formerly taboo items as long as their clothing "covers genitals, buttocks, and areolae/nipples with opaque material." Thus, as The Sacramento Bee writes, students can wear anything within reason, including tank tops, hats, ripped jeans, and "midriff baring shirts." Clothes with violent or illegal imagery, as well as hate speech, profanity, and pornography, are the only items that remain banned.

As the official Alameda Unified School District dress code states, the new policy changes are based upon three key principles:

  • All students are encouraged to dress in a manner that is comfortable and conducive to an active school day.

Students should be able to wear clothing without fear of or actual unnecessary discipline or body shaming.

  • The student dress code should serve to support all students to develop a body- positive self-image.

  • Susan Davis, spokesperson for the Alameda Unified School District, told ABC7 that this new policy was designed to enhance student freedoms, while reducing the "body shaming" the district believes came with their previous dress code.

    "So when you're looking at things like how short are your shorts, are your shoulders showing, is your cleavage showing, that really means that girls are being punished more often and losing class time more often than a boy," said Davis.

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    According to The San Francisco Chronicle, Alameda modeled its new dress code after a suggested policy by the Oregon chapter of the National Organization for Women. Lisa Frack, the organization's former president, explains that such policy changes challenge the idea that girls should be made responsible for ensuring that boys don't become distracted by bare shoulders or an exposed bra strap. 

    "The girls articulated ... that they feel like the message they're getting is that their bodies matter more than their education," she said.

    Frack made special mention of an account by one prepubescent middle school girl who was punished for wearing her soccer shorts to school. "Someone is telling her your leg isn't for running, it's for me to look at," she explained. "Other people's sexual thoughts are being impressed on girls who are just wearing their soccer shorts and going to math."

    Melissa Colorado, reporter for the Bay Area's local NBC affiliate, shared news of the new policy on her Twitter account, asking parents what they think about the change. Her followers, of course, were quick to lend their support, advocating for students' freedom to choose their own attire without facing punishment from the teachers and administrators policing their appearance.

    "They really forced us — catalyzed us — to confront our own role in how students develop body image and what messages our dress code was implicitly or explicitly sending to students about sexuality and what was OK," said Steven Fong, the district's chief academic officer. "We're not about policing students' bodies."

    Henry, an incoming freshman at Alameda High School, told the Chronicle that, in the past, dress code violators throughout the Bay Area required to change into a borrowed baggy sweatshirt or a white T-shirt before returning to class — a sort of scarlet letter, if you will. With that in mind, Henry reiterated the belief that clothing choices shouldn't be left up the judgment of their teachers and administrators. 

    "Dress is between the students and parents," he said. "It shouldn't be something students are pulled out of class for and lose class time, because that was happening."

    While the district's website notes that the new policy is "in a pilot phase" for the 2018-19 school year, the board will ultimately decide whether or not to permanently adopt the dress code in May 2019. By letting students explore their identities through clothing, however, the school district will likely enable these children to find their voice — the voice they will inevitably use when it comes time to determine the dress code's fate.

    Cove image via Monkey Business Images / Shutterstock

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