Among the disturbing incidents cited in the report:
• A high school girl was told to “move around” for the school dean to determine if her nipples were visible through her shirt. The student was then instructed to put bandages on her chest.
• School staff drew on a black boy’s head with a permanent marker to hide the shaved patterns in his hair.
• A transgender student was told not to return to school until she followed the school’s dress code guidelines for men.
• College girls were brought together for a dress code assembly and told that they should not report inappropriate touching if they violate the dress code.
• Two Asian American and Pacific Islander students were banned from wearing necklaces and sarongs, cultural symbols of celebration and pride, until they graduated from high school.
Most dress code disputes arise in middle school. Earlier this year, Howard Middle School in Atlanta faced an uproar from parents and students when girls lined the halls to inspect the length of their shorts. The GAO report says dress codes are largely about women’s attire, including skirts, tank tops and leggings. Many dress codes restrict hair, hairstyles, and head coverings, which often infringe on students of color.
Overhanging dress codes — including ones that regulate students’ hairstyles and lengths — are sure to upset middle schoolers, Diaz said. “They have a clear idea of what’s right and what’s wrong, and they’re more willing to speak up. I think they learned more about advocacy and defending what they need. »
Teshia Stovall Dula, 2022 American School Counselor Association National School Counselor of the Year finalist, said, “The struggle is inconsistency in messaging – from adults. If all staff enforce a dress code, this can be clear to students. The administrator should explain the dress code during the first week of school so that students realize that they are not being targeted. If they break a dress code, they shouldn’t be embarrassed but talk to them privately.
A college counselor in the Atlanta metro area, Dula treats dress codes as a life lesson with her students about the world of college and careers. “It’s an opportunity to share relevant information on the world of work. Students should know that they can still be someone working at Chick-fil-A after school in khakis and a button-up shirt,” she said. “Schools should teach the why of the dress code, and staff should enforce a dress code that is simple, appropriate and easy to follow.”
Research analyzes of dress codes over the past few years have revealed implicit biases and language that is sexist, racist, classist and homophobic, said Erin Mason, assistant professor of school guidance at Georgia State’s College of Education & Human Development. University.
“What’s really missing in these situations, especially at the college level, is the opportunity to discuss the stereotypes that can accompany dress codes,” said Mason, who worked for 13 years as a college counselor. in Georgia. “What would be best for schools is to develop climatic and cultural expectations for their students around respect for identity and respect for individuality and personal space. Instead of the rules only being about what not to do, make it the right thing to do.