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Do you support revising TDSB Policy P042 (Appropriate Dress) so that it aligns with equity and human rights, and so that it incorporates greater opportunity for student voice in dress code development, review, and revision?

I can confirm that I do support revising the TDSB Policy P042 to ensure it aligns with equity and human rights. This includes our Ontario Humans Rights code and the Canadian charter of rights and freedoms. In this revision, I believe student voices should be incorporated and play a greater role in the review process. I also believe we should include expert voices from academic fields that can help us make revisions to the dress code policy that would promote healthier and more proactively inclusive schools while also preventing discrimination. Unfortunately, dress code policies are being used to oppress students around the world. For example, students wearing a turban, kippah or hijab are banned from entering schools in certain parts of the world. This is unacceptable.

Here in Canada systemic discrimination can still be prevalent, and it is foolhardy to believe this discrimination cannot leak into our own schools. Today our fashion trends include garments that have been inspired from around the world. These same garments were once labelled a “distraction” and even lead to bullying. Schools can promote healthy expression without compromising on responsible education. The balance; however, needs to be achieved and that is what I would like to see as the end objective of the review. This review should refresh the baseline of necessary boundaries and absolutely unnecessary boundaries, and challenge our conventional understanding of “non-school” attire. The line should be clearly defined as to minimize bias in the interpretation of the policy. In addition to the policy, supportive guidelines for handling different scenarios without suspension/dismissal should be provided and encouraged.

Below are particular points I would like to see addressed in the revision.

It can be argued that a student wearing a baseball hat in class will cause a distraction within a classroom as it takes away the ability of the teacher to connect with the student and vice versa. This to some degree can be true, but in most cases does not impede the teacher’s ability to teach a class and should not be punishable. An additional argument can be made that wearing a hat/hoody poses a safety issue as teachers cannot readily recognize the students. However, in most instances teachers can identify who the students is. Lack of clothing should be more concerning, and students wearing a hat should not be treated the same as students who attend school shirtless or in any other unhygienic manner. A consistency and gender-neutral approach to dress code incidents need to be developed and addressed within the revisions. It is unacceptable that female students are often expected to follow stricter dress codes than their male counterparts. Simply put, all genders should adhere to the same rules and one not less/more than the other. Modern clothing and appropriate attire need to have a clear definition and balance within the updated policy, as to ensure that there is a respect for the dignity of our students.

Second, the socio-economic implications of dress codes need to be addressed. Students who cannot afford to dress like their peers can become discouraged within our schools and even bullied. This gap can be a distraction, and in schools, the focus should be on confidence building and education, not cliques and separation. Individuality does not need to compromise equal opportunity learning.

Third, attire should not be offensive or damaging to students or the overall school ecosystem. As children grow up, they experience different levels of growth and phases of expression. It is important for educators to guide students to success. Students wearing attire that can damage their future or offend other students should be guided to ensure they understand the implications of their attire. For example, shirts that demean women or have gang references or implicit racism should continue to be disallowed in schools. In these extreme cases, although suspension might be an appropriate solution, further education should be prioritized for these students, as well as an effective escalation process to ensure the issue being reported is warranted and students have an opportunity to learn from their mistakes.

In summary, upon further research, I can say that I fully support the review of the aforementioned dress code policy. In addition, I believe schools within the TDSB going forward should be recording data about how many students are sent to the office for dress code infractions. These cases should be audited by the board annually so that these infractions are reviewed by a second opinion and improvements can be continuously made to ensure we are achieving an inclusive environment. Along with revisions to the policy, guidance materials should be produced (and updated) that can support our administrators and staff on how to best address such issues going forward. This material should be updated every two years to keep up with societal progress.

Within the review, I would like to see the following issues remediated

  1. Discrepancies between schools in my ward on how dress codes are interpreted and enforced. 2. Teachers’ and administrators’ own biases as a sole determining factor
  2. Inconsistencies in practice and enforcement
  3. The singling out & discrimination of clothing worn by female presenting students and clothing worn by marginalized students

Beyond the revision, I would advocate and push for a 3-year roadmap (with metrics & defined targets) with a plan to start recording these incidents and reducing them.