Tl;dr: A draft of a revised Policy P042 (now called the Student Dress Code Policy) is up! It looks great! Except for: 1) it calls for “breasts” to be covered and so makes it easy for school staff to keep coding girls’ cleavage; 2) it prohibits dress that references “gang affiliation” and so makes it easy for school staff to keep profiling students of colour; and 3) it doesn’t do enough to end prohibitions on hats and hoods. We’re calling on our supporters to raise these concerns in a written submission to the November 8 Governance and Policy Committee meeting (submissions should be in ASAP). We are eager to help with the submission process; please get in touch!

The TDSB is revising its Appropriate Dress Policy (P042). Phase I of the revision process began and ended back in May, when the Governance and Policy Committee approved the recommendation that P042 be revised. Now, Phase II is finally live.

A draft of a revised P042 — now called the Student Dress Code Policy — has been posted. This Thursday, the Governance and Policy Committee will decide whether it’s ready for external consultations.

We are thrilled to get a look at a revised policy. It’s been a long time coming! And there’s a lot to like in this draft. We don’t think it’s quite ready to go, though, and we need your help communicating our concerns to the Board.

First, just a few highlights. The revised policy…

  • foregrounds equity and student well-being;
  • asserts that students experience school as a social environment as opposed to a professional work environment;
  • warns against reinforcing or increasing marginalization;
  • asserts that dress code violations are minor on the continuum of school rule violations.

These points are crucial, and a policy that includes them is off to a great start!

Here’s where we’re concerned:

Section 6.1 (c) of the revised policy states: “Student dress must… Be worn in such a way that groin, buttocks, breasts and chest are covered with opaque fabric.” This is clearly inspired by the NOW model school dress code; but the NOW model reads: “Clothes must be worn in a way such that genitals, buttocks, and nipples are covered with opaque material. Cleavage should not have coverage requirements.” We think NOW is on much more solid ground here — the Board’s reference to “breasts” is gendered, and too general — it leaves the door open to dress coding re: cleavage, which is a common practice that we want a revised code to decisively end.

Section 6.1 (c) of the revised policy states: “Student dress must… Not denote, suggest, display or reference…gang affiliation…” The current policy prohibits “attire that indicates gang affiliation,” and thus gives rise to racial profiling. When we spoke to the Black Student Achievement Advisory Committee last winter, one of the members remarked on how difficult it is for police officers to keep up with how attire is used to signal gang affiliation. Teachers, in contrast, receive no training whatsoever regarding how to identify such attire. We want to see the reference to “gang affiliation” excised from a revised code. If that’s absolutely impossible, then the revised code must make clear that when it comes to attire that references gang affiliation, the burden of proof lies with school staff — school staff must be able to demonstrate that the attire in question is currently known to signal gang affiliation. Perhaps the revised code could instruct school staff to confer with the Integrated Guns and Gang Task force of the TPS — or, again, perhaps we should drop the pretence of having a clue what constitutes gang affiliated attire altogether, and give up this excuse to racially profile to boot!

Section 6.2 (g) of the revised policy states: “The… code must… result in barrier free access to the fullest extent possible (e.g. no zero tolerance head wear…)” This is a great example! Not least because, in our experience, concerns regarding head wear were top of mind for administrators upon receiving the August 30 system letter from the Board. But a revised code must explicitly spell out expectations regarding head wear, not bury them in a parenthetical — especially when 6.1 (c) states that student dress must “Not interfere with the safe operation of the school.” Currently, prohibitions on head wear, and the racial profiling that results, are usually justified with reference to “safety,” and we worry that the revised code doesn’t quite do enough to militate against this status quo. Again, why not just go with NOW?: “Students May Wear… Hats, including religious headwear; Hoodie sweatshirts (over head is allowed)… Students Cannot Wear… Helmets or headgear that obscures the face (except as a religious observance).”

These concerns are significant — they undermine the really good work that most of the rest of the revised policy does; they perpetuate the sexist and racist discrimination that made a revised policy imperative in the first place. If the revised policy as posted were adopted right now, we’d find ourselves fighting it in the same way and for the same reasons we’ve been fighting the current policy for years now.

Please help us ensure that we achieve the revised policy we want; please raise these concerns in a written submission to this Thursday’s Governance and Policy Committee meeting. Your submission can be as short or as long as you’d like; it can be scrappy or sloppy or both; you can use the language we’ve used here or use language all your own; you can add additional concerns of your own and / or omit some of ours. You should try to have your submission in by Tuesday afternoon (but honestly they’ll probably take late work). Let us know if you need any help navigating the submission process. Let’s get this thing right!

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