Pro: Revamped dress code celebrates inclusiveness.
In early August, Trevor Wilkinson, an openly gay senior student at Clyde High School in Texas, came to school with a black manicure with colorful fire designs. Despite the fact that female students were allowed to paint their nails, Wilkinson was reprimanded and given an in-school suspension.
Since then, numerous students nationwide have spoken out against dress code policies, including students at Irvine High School. Currently, Irvine Unified School District Dress Code and Personal Appearance Policy currently prohibit clothing that advocates unlawful behavior or illegal substances, any combination of clothing which is considered gang-related, and disruptive or provocative such as exposing undergarments, midriff, upper torso, and sheer clothing. While some aspects of the dress code may be beneficial, the school dress code policies need to be revamped.
Having an inclusive dress code policy uplifts the expression of gender and sexuality. According to a 2013 National School Climate Survey, 19% of LGBT students were prevented from wearing clothes that were thought to be from another gender and that number was even higher for transgender students, nearly 32% of whom have been prevented from wearing clothes that differed from those designated for their legal sex. Allowing the free expression of gender and sexuality helps students embrace their differences and be comfortable in their own skin. There is no educational value in prohibiting certain genders from wearing certain clothing items and enforcing stricter dress code guidelines could even deter students from coming to school and actively participating.
Revamping the dress code policy prevents gender-based discrimination. According to a study by the Education Commission of the States, of the items listed to “accentuate the body”, 57% are primarily marketed in stores to girls, 38% to any gender, and only 5% are marketed primarily to boys. Rules that prohibit specific items due to their perceived sexiness, like “short shorts” and “sheer clothing” impact students wearing clothing marketed to girls more than their peers. These dress code policies unfairly sexualize young girls and enforce the idea that certain articles of girls’ attire should be prohibited because they “distract” boys. Having a more gender-neutral dress code dispels the negative association with female bodies and reiterates that accountability for one’s learning is on themselves.
Some may argue that having a strict dress code increases campus safety and reduces violence in schools. The Long Beach, California, school district, the first in the country to adopt mandatory public school uniforms in grades K-8, has been touted as an example of the proven success of uniform policies showing a dramatic decline in violence in their K-8 schools from 1993-94 to 1994-95, including a 51% drop in physical fights, a 34% drop in assaults and batteries, a 50% drop in weapons offenses, and a 32% drop in suspension. However, student dress serves as a gage of what is going on with the student and can signal problems such as drugs, gang membership, or sex abuse. Uniforms would eliminate a warning system that lets teachers and administrators identify and assist students who need help and instead penalizes everyone instead of focusing on the small percentage of kids causing the problems.
Revamping the dress code will allow the expression of gender and sexuality and prevent gender-based discrimination. More flexible dress codes allow students to feel more comfortable and confident in who they are, ultimately promoting a more positive school experience. Despite few instances of uniforms promoting school safety, giving students the opportunity to express themselves through clothing fosters a greater understanding and positive school culture.
Meghna is a senior and Co-Managing Editor/Activities Director for El Vaquero and this is her second year of staff.
Con: Dress code maintains a safe and positive learning environment
Before dress codes gained popularity, Columbine High School students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold hid guns in their trench coat pockets, shooting and killing 12 students on April 20, 1999.
Since then, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, more than half of American public schools enforce a dress code to prevent similar incidents from occurring at their own school sites. Irvine High should maintain the current dress code because it promotes school safety and a positive learning environment.
In a diverse school community, a dress code promotes a positive learning environment. According to a study conducted by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development’s Program in 2015 across 39 countries, following a dress code in school improves students’ listening abilities, classroom noise levels, teachers’ waiting time, students’ collaborative skills and class start times. By enforcing dress codes on campus, schools can ensure distractions are kept to a minimum, thus keeping students focused on schoolwork and maintaining peak behavior.
Adopting and enforcing a dress code on campus promotes school safety. According to Long Beach Unified School District, after enforcing a uniform policy, crimes across the school district have dropped 91%, suspensions have decreased by 90% and vandalism has decreased by 69%, all without any additional security implementations. Setting guidelines and policies that prohibit students from taking complete control of their clothing choices limits violence, decreases gang-affiliated clothing and creates a stronger sense of safety across campus.
Some may argue that school dress codes oppress the rights of students because they limit and dictate what students can and can not wear to class. But, dress codes do not smother student’s First Amendment rights to freedom of expression, but rather limit students from abusing their freedom. In January, 2001, the 5th U.S Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the argument that uniforms dampen student expression or transgress on their religious rights. The court claimed that because the uniform policy being implemented by the school board was to raise test scores and improve student behavior, “it in no way served to suppress student speech.” Despite what some may believe, dress codes do not limit student’s freedom of expression and do not violate their First Amendment rights. Flexible or not, schools implement dress codes with the goal of promoting safety and strengthening discipline, not to oppress student’s rights.
Schools across the world have seen many positive outcomes following the implementation of a dress code, including improved student behavior, a more engaged and focused learning environment and a decrease in campus crimes. Despite what some may believe, students are still entitled to their First Amendment rights while attending school under a dress code, even if their school restricts certain clothing choices. Therefore, Irvine High should maintain the current dress code.
Maya is a junior, a writer and photographer for El Vaquero, and this is her second year on staff.