Reasoning behind current dress code is faulty

Jennifer Barnes, Editor-in-Chief

Dress codes are being used across the country as an over-glorified and pseudo-moralizing method to indirectly teach students, particularly female students, that the way that they dress and appear to others is more important than their right to an education. The codes allow for broadly sweeping generalizations about the types of clothing that students are and are not allowed to wear, and an overarching provision allowing administration to follow the guidelines to their own discretion.  This leaves excessive room for unnecessary removal of students from the learning environment for dress code infractions.  With the punishments set in place for dress code infractions, the appearance of a student ranks higher than her ability to learn and the value of her time.

The Wake County Public School System claims that its dress code is in place to “help keep our students focused on learning without distractions,” but the provisions included in it go beyond preventing distractions.  A shoulder is not a distraction.  A thigh is not a distraction.  When these body parts become a “distraction,” the fault falls on those being distracted, not the person possessing a body part.  To remove students from class and suspend them, or otherwise forces them to lose valuable teaching time by changing or waiting for another set of clothes is beyond unreasonable.

Across the United States, female students are significantly more targeted by dress code provisions, with few of the rules pertaining, or even relating, to males.  In May 2014, over 160 students at Duncanville High School in Texas were sent home from school over the course of a single week for dress code infractions, preventing the students from getting the education that they had come to receive. A middle school in California banned girls from wearing tight pants, on the basis that they were “distracting boys.”  A kindergarten student in Georgia was asked to change her skirt, because the short length was considered to be a distraction to other students.  When even five and six year-olds are being subjected to the unnecessary and inappropriate sexualization of the female body, something absolutely has to be addressed.

On the Athens Drive High School website, a document is listed specifying the dress code for the school, far beyond what the county as a whole specifies.  One of the provisions listed is “yoga pants and leggings are discouraged, but if worn, it must be with an appropriate covering.”  Not only does this make absolutely no sense, it directly targets girls in the school, shaming them for their bodies.  The dress code provides no reasoning for this “discouragement” leading one to believe that any reasoning behind it is baseless and would not hold up to argument.  To go even further, this particular provision was not even directly mentioned at grade level meetings, despite nearly every other item on the provided list being covered and showcased in the PowerPoint.  If administration is unwilling to even mention this provision in front of the students but insists on attempting to enforce it, it only leaves it vague and open to interpretation.  Different administrators are likely to interpret the rules differently, possibly leaving conflicting comments and standards for students.

Before focusing so intently on the image of students, maybe schools should take a bit more time focusing on more specific issues that actually matter, like maybe the sexualization of young students’ bodies that occurs as a result of those viewing them, not what they are wearing, or the irrational and baseless expectations put upon girls.  Of all the lessons that students are supposed to learn at school, the morality and respectability of the way they dress is not one of them.