Alameda Schools: Students Can Wear (a Lot More of) What They Want

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Laurie and Debbie say:

Before we get to anything, wow, are we glad to be blogging together again! It’s been way too long.

What caught our eyes this week is last month’s announcement by the City of Alameda School District that students can basically wear whatever they want to, with just a few limitations. They are required to wear “clothing that covers specific body parts (genitals, buttocks, and areolae/nipples) with opaque material.”  This is, by the way, almost identical to the City of San Francisco’s public dress code, except that men in San Francisco can show their nipples.

The policy is clear and concise, unlike most high-school dress codes, which call for teachers and staff to constantly engage in arbitrary judgment calls: a situation which is unfair to every student, and disproportionately unfair to students of color. The Alameda policy lists what students can wear, and what they can’t wear:

Students may wear pajamas, ripped jeans, halter tops, fitted pants and athletic wear, and hats and hoodies over their heads, among other items.

Students cannot wear clothing that has violent language or images, hate speech, profanity or pornography. They also can’t wear bathing suits or have visible underwear, except for waistbands. Headgear can’t obscure their faces unless for religious reasons.

This radical change will affect high-school girls, and people whose dress is female-identified, much more than high-school boys and male-identified dressers, although some rules, including “heads covered by hoodies are okay as long as faces are showing” and “underwear can be visible over waistbands” may affect everyone.

According to the article linked above, high-school dress codes are being re-evaluated around the country, this one is based on a model published by the Oregon chapter of the National Organization for Women, and is gaining ground in schools from Portland, Oregon to Evanston, Illinois. The changes are largely fueled by student pressure. Oregon NOW adopted the policy in part because they were hearing from girls that it felt like their bodies mattered more than their education: so Alameda’s action sends a clear new message: Your education matters more than how you adorn your body.  “We’re not about policing students’ bodies,” said the district academic officer.

The other side of this coin is a message to boys: when girls are allowed to show a bra strap or the top of their cleavage, boys are expected to continue on about their business. The centuries-old assumption that women have to dress “appropriately” because men cannot control themselves is being challenged–and the challenge is coming from teenagers. Even one school choosing not to take responsibility for how girls “distract” men is a step towards a kind of equity in school expectations that we have literally never seen: “Dress how you want to, and if someone else doesn’t behave, that’s their fault, not yours” is an extremely radical message, especially to girls and genderqueer or genderfluid students.

If this sounds like a response to #metoo at the high-school level, we think it is. If it sounds like a trend in which people are demanding (and getting) the right to making decisions about their own lives, we think it is. And if it sounds like a refreshing change for high school students, Abby Rose thinks it is: One of the organizers who got the policy changed, Rosee can wear her favorite ripped jeans to school and not be sent home.

“They used to pull me out of class which is not okay,” she said. Another organizer, Kristen Wong says, “If I wear shorts, no one is measuring them.”

Follow Debbie @spicejardebbie on Twitter.

7 thoughts on “Alameda Schools: Students Can Wear (a Lot More of) What They Want

  1. As someone who remembers a time when girls couldn’t wear pants to school and skirts had to reach your knees, I find this thrilling. Good news for a change.

  2. Oops, edito alert. You wrote, ‘They cannot wear “clothing that covers specific body parts (genitals, buttocks, and areolae/nipples) with opaque material.”’ That’s pretty funny, suggesting clothing with genital cut-outs and transparent tops. Maybe later this century?

    What the SF Chronicle article reported was, ‘Students will now have nearly unfettered freedom to wear almost whatever they want as long as they have a top, bottom, shoes and “clothing that covers specific body parts (genitals, buttocks, and areolae/nipples) with opaque material,” according to the new policy.’

  3. Yes, my junior high had those stupid rules – I was sent home for wearing culottes and it was a carnival day at school, not even a full day! My mom was furious.

    Luckily my high school adopted rules similar to these, and it worked out just fine.

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