A parent group’s petition claims the dress code of a Texas school district is sexist, racist and discriminatory. It calls upon the board of trustees to revamp the code “in a way that is inclusive, equitable, and body positive.”
The online petition alleges the Austin Independent School District dress code does not uphold their “values of equity, diversity, and inclusion’ and is fraught with “vague language with arbitrary restrictions” that are “open to interpretation” such as attire “for the school setting and weather conditions,” “shorts that distract” and a requirement to “demonstrate modesty.” The petition lobbies for “clear, meaningful, and precise” dress code language that “will help eliminate bias.”
Stay-at-home mom Candace Pruett, also the vice president of the Parent Teacher Association (PTA) at the school district’s Brentwood Elementary, wrote the petition, according to the Austin American-Statesman. In September, she spoke on behalf of the parent group Austin Families for a Common Sense Dress Code during the public comments portion of the school board meeting. She asked trustees to “review and revise” the dress code and said the group will present the petition’s signatures at the October 22 school board meeting.
The petition asserts the dress code targets “females and minorities,” as well as nonconforming students, allegedly shaming them by banning certain garb. It states:
The current dress code has a focus on policing female bodies. Girls tend to be more often singled out and lose instruction time because their attire is deemed inappropriate. This sends an embarrassing and dangerous message to both our boys and girls that a girl’s body is more important than her education, and that we can’t trust our children to control their own thought and feelings without intervention.
However, the Statesman found the total number of dress code-based suspensions in Austin ISD was relatively small, reflecting 14 in 2016-17 of which 100 percent were female students, and 29 last year, with girls comprising 59 percent of these violations.
The dress code also victimizes boys because it bans baggy pants, athletic shorts, and “some school-specific hair restrictions are culturally insensitive and discriminatory,” according to the petition. It argues these restrictions “exacerbate” higher discipline rates faced by “black and other students of color.” It says “removing racism from our dress code will result in more diverse and inclusive classrooms and better reflect district values.”
Presently, Austin ISD students “may not advertise, condone, depict or promote the use of alcohol, tobacco or drug” with their clothing. The dress code also prohibits “clothing with vulgar or obscene language, or with images or writing that promote disruption of the educational setting.” Banned garments include backless tops, baggy pants, bare midriffs, gang-associated clothes or colors, halter tops, low cut necklines, shorts and short skirts, spaghetti straps, strapless tops, slippers, and hats or caps inside (except for religious headwear). Middle and high schools ban see-through clothing, tank tops, and visible undergarments.
The petition alleges that dress code directives allow campuses to create more restrictions leading to “further inequality.” It proposes Austin ISD drop the “gender focus of the dress code” and adopt “more sensible and equitable” policies that “foster trust, self-confidence, body positive images, and equality among students.”
It recommends the gender-neutral, non-shaming policies implemented by Oregon’s Portland Public Schools, California’s San Jose Unified School District, and Illinois’ Evanston Township High School. All were inspired by the Model Student Dress Code crafted by the Oregon chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW).
Reportedly, in 2016, Portland schools adopted Oregon NOW’s dress code to liberate teachers from policing pant lengths and spaghetti straps as well as end the “over-punishment” of girls, hat wearers, and gender-fluid students. The Oregonian dubbed the policy “radical.”
For the most part, anything goes under the new dress code although Portland students must cover “all private parts,” with opaque garments, wear tops and bottoms with fabric on the front and sides, conceal underwear, and wear shoes. The policy prohibits outfits with slogans that promote the use of alcohol and drugs, pornography, and hate speech targeting groups on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, religious affiliation, or any other protected groups.
San Jose USD and Evanston Township High School since launched their own Oregon NOW-based dress codes. Clothing previously perceived as distractions now embody fairness and impartiality. This includes leggings, halter tops, hats, hoodies, and tank tops.
In 2004, Austin ISD said it implemented the dress code “to maintain a safe, respectful, and positive learning environment and to model good citizenship.” The Statesman indicated the rules tightened following a 2003 on-campus murder of a female high school sophomore.
As of press time, the petition had 353 of its 1,000 signature goal.
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