School District’s Gender Neutral Dress Code Finally Gets It Right

by Cassandra Stone
Image via San Jose Unified

Thanks to student activism, this school district has changed its outdated dress code policy

School dress codes are often a “hot topic” throughout the school year, regularly making headlines for being ridiculously misogynistic. No matter what, it always seems like legs, shoulders, and midriffs belonging to only female students are a “distraction” from the learning process. Because patriarchy, right? Well, one school district is learning from its mistakes and working to improve its policies.

San Jose Unified, a California school district, is changing its dress code to better reflect the times. Which kind of makes them a pioneer in the Year of Our Lord 2017, where most school dress codes haven’t been altered since the Puritan days.

“I started thinking about the dress code and who it was targeting and why,” Dane Caldwell-Holden, director of student services at the school, told The Mercury News.

“We were working on keeping kids in the classroom and lowering the suspension rate, and yet we were still kicking kids out of class for dress code,” he said. “It was contradictory.”

After being forced to change into baggy gym shorts because her regular shorts were deemed — you guessed it — a distraction, student Madeline Armacost decided to fight back against the outdated school policies. Along with her mother, Armacost said the rules “unfairly targeted and publicly humiliated girls.” They were right, and the school agreed to change its dress code.

In a Facebook post she wrote in response to The Mercury News piece, Armacost says her issue with the dress code wasn’t with being singled out, but with “the way it targeted female students” in general.

“To be honest, the entire process of pulling girls out of class for their ‘inappropriate’ clothing was more distracting than the clothes themselves,” she writes.

“And missing class time over a pair of shorts (that I found on the racks in the mall, and that everyone my age wears without issue) because an anonymous administrator decided they were too sexual made me feel very uneasy.”

Armacost makes a great point in reminding us the purpose of shorts: to be comfortable in hot weather. Crazy, right?

“No girl should have to feel ashamed of her body just because adults are projecting their own ideas of sexuality onto them, especially in an educational setting,” she said.

Amen. Can we get that in the new policy verbatim?

Speaking of which, the new dress code simply requires all clothing — no matter the gender of the clothing wearer — is to be “suitable” by covering the chest, torso, and undergarments. Students are being assured if they have to change their clothes, it will be handled in the “least restrictive and disruptive” manner. Which means no more public shaming for girls and their “scandalous” legs or shoulders.

The new policy states, “Any school dress code enforcement actions should minimize the potential loss of educational time. Administration and enforcement of the dress code will be gender neutral and consistent.”

In an email sent to students ahead of the new school year, San Jose Unified talked about “building a better dress code” as a result of the activism of parents and students:

“San Jose Unified amended our student dress code to remove gender-specific language and ensure that enforcement creates a minimal disruption in the educational day. We’re proud of our students for stepping up to advocate for these important changes and helping to keep San Jose Unified the most innovative school district in the nation.”

Honestly, making a school dress code gender neutral is a huge step. It may feel like it shouldn’t be in this day and age, but the fact remains that a majority of school districts adhere to outdated dress codes that target only girls. The fact that this school acknowledged the problem and fixed it thanks to the determination of students and parents is commendable. It demonstrates progress. We’ll take it.

Here’s hoping San Jose Unified inspires other school districts nationwide to do the same.