In some classrooms, children are taught the “Oranges and Lemons” (or “Apples and Onions”) method of giving feedback. It’s a good news / room-for-improvement news approach: oranges are sweet — they represent purely positive feedback; lemons are sour — they represent constructive criticism. Let’s use this approach to talk about dress codes in the York Region District School Board. We’ll start with the bad news.

Lemons: In some YRDSB classrooms, children are taught from kindergarten that if they are girls, and they experience harassment, it is their fault. A YRDSB parent recently contacted us and shared the dress code that is in place at their child’s K-3 YRDSB school. It states that students “are to come to school dressed modestly yet comfortably,” and is largely directed at girls:

No bare midriff, no visible undergarments, no short shorts (arm’s length including fingertips is a good measure), no spaghetti straps or low cut tank tops. Straps should be 3 fingers wide.

None of this is novel — we’ve seen it all before, and it’s egregious in any context. But in a K-3 context? Directed at children as young as three, and no older than nine? Talk about tart! (That’s tart as in sour, not as in slut — though certainly this dress code perpetuates tart-as-in-slut shaming!)

Oranges: The parent who reached out to us subsequently raised the issue at a Parent Council meeting. Perhaps they pointed out that the YRDSB’s own policies consistently refer to the OHRC. For example, #240 claims that “The Board is firmly committed to meeting its obligations under the Ontario Human Rights Code”; #261 states that all Board policies will incorporate the principles of equity and inclusivity “consistent with the principles of the Ontario Human Rights Code”; and #635 lists the OHRC and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as considerations for developing a dress code — and states that all codes “must consider the diversity of the community in terms of . . . gender and other factors.” At any rate, the school principal acknowledged the issue and invited the parent to write a new code, to be voted on at the next Parent Council meeting. Sweet!

Perhaps the principal abhors slut shaming and victim blaming and has a vision of the school as a model of equitableness and a bastion of student liberation; or maybe the principal found themselves looking at a policy they’d never really reflected on before and intuited that it might not be legit legally. Whatever — the chance to create a new way of doing things is as sweet either way!

Our sample TDSB school-based codes all come from high schools — we’ve found it difficult to track down codes for junior and middle schools, even though we know that they exist. If you can contribute such a code, we’d be grateful. And if you want to talk about changing a code, in the TDSB or elsewhere, please reach out any time.

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