Tag Archives: dress codes

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


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.

Mandatory Underwear: Don’t Show Your Work

Debbie says:

I can’t help laughing about this article:

An Aug. 29 letter from the Little Rock [Arkansas] School District’s Office of the Superintendent to all employees explains that the dress code will officially go into effect in the fall of 2014.

“Foundational garments shall be worn and not visible with respect to color, style, and/or fabric,” the letter reads. “No see-through or sheer clothing shall be allowed, and no skin shall be visible between pants/trousers, skirts, and shirts/blouses at any time.”

T-shirts, patches and other clothing containing slogans for beer, alcohol, drugs, gangs or sex will also be prohibited. Other verboten garments will include cut-off jeans with ragged edges, cut-out dresses and spaghetti-straps if teachers aren’t wearing at least two layers.

Flip-flops will be banned. “Tattoos must be covered if at all possible.” No jogging suits, either (though gym and dance teachers do get a pass on this one).

And the very worst of all: No spandex.

Even though I can understand why the teacher’s union is opposed to the rules on principle, the non-“foundational” portions of this dress code seem fair to me and–perhaps because I am showing my advanced age–surprising that these rules need to be made for teachers. I can no more imagine a teacher in my history wearing flip-flops and an “I drink; I fall down; no problem” t-shirt than I can imagine one teaching naked.

I wondered what the students are allowed to and forbidden from wearing, and I was able to find the student code of conduct on line in .pdf format. Many students, at least right now, have much more leeway than teachers:

Some of the district’s schools require uniforms. In other schools, a student’s attire is the responsibility of the student and the parent/guardian, as long as the dress does not have a disruptive influence at school. However, clothing that is suggestive, revealing, or violates health and safety standards is prohibited. Jewelry, buttons or clothing that has profane, inflammatory or indecent words, pictures, or symbols on them is also prohibited.

I have to wonder why the teachers and the students aren’t held to the same standards, or why the teachers’ standards aren’t as generalized as the students, even if more restrictive. Of course, I also wonder what happened to get these new regulations started: what did a teacher show up wearing? Who complained?

Finally, though, it all comes down to the underwear. You can argue about the validity or good sense of the other rules. You can nitpick about whether flip-flops have to be plastic, or whether leather sandals in flip-flop shape are or are not acceptable. You can send a teacher home for a shirt with a wine-bottle pattern, and she can file a union complaint about it not being an actual advertisement. But how, when, and where are they going to enforce the underwear rule?

Is the school going to be like an airport, where if a teacher refuses to pull his jeans down an inch to reveal his tighty-whities, or to slide her spaghetti strap blouse and the layer underneath it off her shoulder to show a tasteful leopard-print bra strap, she or he is pulled aside into a private room with a screener of the appropriate gender? Is the principal going to conduct spot underwear inspections in the office? Are teachers going to report on one another in the bathrooms? Or (as I suspect) is the whole thing entirely theater of the absurd, with absolutely no enforcement plan or intention?

Here’s the problem: absurdity is not an excuse. That which is absurd the first time becomes mildly acceptable the fourth time and business as usual the 100th time. Here we have yet another rule which violates people’s privacy, autonomy, and personal space, which can be used (and will, if it is ever used) unfairly: more often against women than men, far more often against teachers of color than white teachers. I don’t imagine that the union leaders ever imagined fighting for their members’ right not to wear underwear, but underneath the humor, it’s an important fight.

Thanks to supergee for the pointer.