Perhaps Policy P042 (Appropriate Dress) was written with good intentions. The school-based dress codes it has given rise to, however, have bad consequences. Those consequences — the discrimination produced by school-based codes — have been the focus of the End Dress Codes Collective to this point.

We will certainly continue to document and discuss the discrimination produced by dress codes. But now that the TDSB is beginning the process of revising Policy P042, we want to make clear what we are expecting at the end of this process. We know what’s wrong with the way things are; what follows is a very brief outline of the way we want things to be.

We want a dress policy that explicitly aims to produce equity.

The TDSB does not have to invent such a policy from scratch.

The Oregon chapter of the National Organization of Women created a Model Dress Code to help school boards through the process that the TDSB is now embarking upon. The premise of this Model Code is “Student dress codes should support equitable educational access . . .”

The NOW Model Dress Code is not merely theoretical. At the beginning of this school year, Evanston Township High School put it into practice. Rapturous press followed.

The National Women’s Law Center, in collaboration with twenty-one Black girls who are now or were recently students in D.C. public schools, just released Dress Coded: Black Girls, Bodies, and Bias in D.C. Schools. Their report includes policy recommendations, the first of which is “All schools should begin their dress codes with an equity policy.”

Closer to home, the Greater Victoria School District adopted a new dress code policy in April. Two highlights:

3.1 Students may attend school and school-related functions in dress of their choice under the conditions that the choices:
3.1.1 Conform with established health and safety requirements for the intended activity; and
3.1.2 Do not promote drugs or alcohol; display offensive language or images; or encourage discrimination.

[Dress codes will be enforced] consistently and in a manner that does not reinforce or increase marginalization or oppression of any group based on race, sex, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion, cultural observance, household income or body type and size…

It isn’t hard, and, given the above examples, it’s no longer novel: the TDSB’s dress code policy should be designed to encourage, rather than impede, equity.

We want staff and students to receive training in how to implement an equity-focused dress policy.

In Florida, a high school student is accused of violating the dress code because she is not wearing a bra. Her school’s Code of Conduct “does not say bras must be worn by female students.”

In Toronto, a high school student is disciplined for not wearing a bra. Her school’s dress code doesn’t say she has to wear a bra.

In Winnipeg, a three-year-old girl’s sundress is considered inappropriate for her nursery school. The school’s director refers to a dress code which does not, in fact, exist.

And back in Toronto, a middle school student is sent home because her hair is “too poofy.” The school’s principal makes reference to professionalism, but does not mention a dress code.

It is vital that Policy P042 be revised so that it encourages equity — but it isn’t enough. Dress-based discrimination happens in schools with or without dress codes. We think policies like P042 embolden the sorts of impromptu disciplining illustrated above — but we don’t think the revision of P042 will make incidents like these go away entirely.

Instead, the TDSB must commit time and money to training staff and students to understand the values behind a revised dress code policy. The Board must change the policy, and then do the relatively difficult work of changing how school staff practice. As it happens, the folks in the End Dress Codes Collective have extensive experience facilitating workshops for both teachers and students on this subject, and we are ready to help.

That’s what we want. Actually, we expect no less from a Board that prides itself on being “recognized as a world leader in equitable and inclusive schools.” Most importantly, it’s what TDSB students need to be successful and reach their full potential.

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