Kingsley Junior High Dress Code: An Update

Last Friday, our story about the Kingsley Junior High dress code controversy was picked up by local radio station WGLT and a member of the ReSisterhood interviewed for the piece. We’re doing a follow-up to the story since Unit 5 still has not provided satisfactory clarification on Principal Shelly Erickon‘s April 26th audio message, which you can listen to here.

Director of Secondary Education Laura O’Donnell stresses in the aforementioned WGLT interview that the dress-code section of the handbook already includes “very gender-neutral” language that does not single out female students. O’Donnell is correct on that point. The exact phrase is “[c]lothing that fails to adequately cover the body will not be permitted.”

“I am in support of our handbook that is board-approved . . . .  I am not going to comment on those who have chosen to make this a bigger issue,” says O’Donnell.

The reason that this has grown into a so-called “bigger issue” is that Erickson’s reminder to parents not to let students wear tops that display midriffs, bare shoulders, bra straps, or “excessive cleavage” is at direct odds with the actual language of the dress code. That is to say, the dress code makes no prohibitions against the type of clothing described by Erickson. A mother or father who consults the student handbook to see what kind of warm-weather clothing they should buy for their junior-high daughter will find no rules against tank tops, sleeveless blouses, or short-shorts.

O’Donnell speaks as though dissenting parents want the dress code done away with entirely, but that could not be further from the truth. Everyone agrees that clothing displaying partial nudity is unacceptable, and that reasonable guidelines are essential for both genders. Parents are simply wondering how bare shoulders or bra straps on their daughters constitute a “substantial disruption in the school environment”–to use the handbook’s own language. What does the phrase “adequately cover the body” mean? How is adequately defined? What parts of the body must be covered? Are the standards different for male students vs. female students? Are they different for thin students vs. larger students?

When asked whether making female students wear gym clothes or report to the office disrupts their learning, O’Donnell prevaricates, saying, “We have the right as a school to define what appropriate dress is, and just as with any other infraction, we have the right to follow through with what consequences might be appropriate.” She doesn’t address how sexist double-standards might harm female students, nor does she ever get around to explaining how how tank tops, a popular item of clothing routinely worn by 5-year-old girls to 55-year-old women, cause disruption in the classroom.

The fact remains that a common argument against young women wearing revealing clothing–and we want to stress that the definition of revealing is highly subjective–is that it distracts young men, an argument that came up in the comment thread of the WGLT story. Says one man, “[B]oys will be spending all their energy ‘controlling themselves’ when they should be paying attention in class. We are very visually oriented creatures (more so than women) and to deny that is tantamount to hiding ones head in the sand. Controlling ones thoughts is a lot easier said than done, especially for a teenager with raging hormones.”

The lesson? Boys’ learning is still often prioritized over girls’, even in 2017.

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