The high school dress code serves as a protection between self expression and disruption of students’ best interests, but what happens when problems arise and the protection of students becomes the ridicule of a student body?
The concept of what could be enforced in dress codes was brought up in the 1969 court case, Tinker vs. Des Moines. This case is known as “a landmark case in education law due to its freedom of expression ruling on behalf of students,” according to a presentation given to the National Organization for Legal Problems in Education Convention in 1992. In the case, it was determined that students still had constitutional rights within the school system and couldn’t be disciplined for expressing opinion unless it was proven disruptive to the school’s environment: Thus commenced the debate of what would be considered disruptive, and what was simply self-expression.
In another court case later in 1969, Scott vs. the Board of Education, girls were prohibited from wearing slacks to school purely on the basis that it was distasteful. Women were finally starting to think about their careers, get jobs and get divorces in ways that before would have “scandalized their mothers and grandmothers,” according to an article in The Atlantic. This ruling tried to reverse the confidence that was growing in women by reminding young girls that they weren’t men. The sexist nature of this policy was repealed in another court case, Bannister vs. Paradis
in 1970, the 1969 case was found unconstitutional, but the 1970 case still stated that skirts had to be longer than “six inches above the knee.” The scrutiny of high school girls’ skirts was a little overboard.
Many girls end up getting the short end of the stick and are treated unfairly within these codes. School policy has changed in order to mask the inequality between the sexes. Being dress coded causes the same amount of confidence bashing as the no-slacks policy in 1969. Women are growing tired of dealing with problems that come from a different century.
“I was kind of upset [about being dress coded] because it was the first day, and it didn’t feel good to come back to that,” junior Kaitlyn Zambrana said. “The dress went to my knees, and my shoulders were showing. I had to go back to my locker and put on a jacket.” Zambrana had to miss class time in order for the teacher let her back into the room. There wasn’t a “disruption in the school environment” as the codes state, so a 17 year old girl’s shoulders shouldn’t be a problem, although most teachers will agree that they’re just doing their job.
Zambrana said that it makes her uncomfortable to be looked at so closely. The scrutiny of high school girls’ outfits goes further than protecting them and makes them feel ridiculed and unfairly treated. If a high school girl is being told to cover up because her shoulders make boys or, even worse, teachers uncomfortable, then maybe it isn’t girls who are the problem. It could be argued that it’s just professional business attire, and it’s polite, but students are not the ones who are employed: teachers are. As long as students aren’t promoting drug use, or gang related paraphernalia there shouldn’t be a “disruption in the environment” as the codes state.
The idea that a girl needs to cover up for someone else is teaching the wrong message to young girls with impressionable minds. The school system seems to contradict itself within its own set rules. It seems the policy needs an update, but going straight to the Virginia School Board may not be the immediate answer.
“Policies are reviewed and updated as times change.” Safety & Security Specialist Ralph Gardner said. “If you want to change anything it’s always best to start local.”
Some people may think that the dress codes are fine, and that it isn’t unreasonable to tell young girls that their bodies are a temple, but this idea grows into something much worse when you see this in court cases about rape, and the victims are asked “what were you wearing?”. This idea that girls need to stay covered starts in the school systems, and even when people don’t realize they think that way, it’s still engrained into what they’ve been taught. This problem might be able to be helped if a change in the dress code were to occur.
It’s easier to change growing minds over time and the policy that’s currently instated is having the opposite effect.
“I don’t think that was the intent with the policy,” Gardner said. “That wasn’t what they were going for when they wrote that regulation.”
Regulation is important for the safety of students, but that doesn’t really matter when the message is misconstrued. Teach young minds to not oversexualize womens bodies, instead of telling women their bodies are inherently sexual.