In this Sept. 7, 2018 photograph, students socialize in the Award of a high School in Portland, oregon, after school. Portland Public Schools have a relaxed dress code, in 2016, after student complaints that the rules unfairly targeted female students and sexual their fashion choices. (AP Photo/Gillian Flaccus)
ALAMEDA, California. – The relaxed new dress code at public schools in the small city of Alameda, across the bay from San Francisco, is intentionally specific: Midriff-baring shirts are acceptable clothing, so are tank tops with spaghetti straps and other once-prohibited items such as micro -, mini-skirts and shorts.
As students in the new school year, gone are the restrictions on the ripped jeans and shirts in the classroom. If students want to come to school in pajamas, that’s OK, too.
The new policy amounts to a radical reversal of the modern school dress code and make Alameda the latest school district in the country to adopt a more tolerant policy it says is less sexist.
Students who take the initiative for the change say a lot of the old rules that excluded too much skin disproportionately targeted girls, while language to call such clothes “disturbing” the wrong message.
“If someone is wearing a short shirt and you see her stomach, it’s not her fault that they distract from other people,” said Henry Mills, 14, an incoming freshman at Alameda high School who together with a committee of high school students and teacher advisors to review the policy. “There was a language that influenced mainly girls, and that was not OK.”
Dress codes have long been the territory of contention and uproar, but the turnaround in Alameda shows a generation-shift students and teachers say is partly influenced by broader discussions on gender, coming from the #MeToo movement against sexual misconduct and a national revival of student activism.
Approved by the school board on the basis of a trial period during the summer break, the new dress code is stirring back-to-school discussions about what the role of schools in socializing children.
There are strong critical voices of the new dress code.
Math teacher Marie Hsu, she said, all of the equity, but that the new rules for sending an unintended message that it is good, even necessary, as “sex”.
“It is good not to punish girls for distraction. I completely, completely,” said Hsu, who teaches at Lincoln High School and is an Alameda resident with two young children. “But I think it’s extremely misguided.”
Alameda mother Paula Walker says that they are the “old school”, but she did not mind the prohibition against revealing clothes.
“They say that kids start everything younger, and I said, well, that’s because you throw in their faces,” Walker said.
Dress codes and severity vary greatly by country. Twenty-four states have policies that the local school districts the authority to set their own dress codes or uniform policies, according to the Education Commission of the States, a nonprofit organization that tracks education policy.
Some have a provincial policy, such as Arkansas, which passed in 2011 a law that the school districts “to prohibit the wearing of clothing that exposes underwear, buttocks, or the breast of a woman.”
A Texas high school was recently criticized for a back-to-school video on dress codes that only featured girls. The video on Marcus high School in a suburb of Dallas showed girls in short skirts to reprimanded as the song “Bad Girls” of M. I. A. played in the background. Students slammed it as sexist on social media, after which the client to apologize, saying: the video ” absolutely not succeed.”
Alameda the new dress code was modeled after a proposed policy by the Oregon chapter of the National Organization for Women, prepared in 2016 to “update and improve” dress codes prevent regulations that the reinforcement of gender stereotypes and minimizing unnecessary discipline or “body shaming.”
Portland, Oregon’s public school district has a new policy in 2016, followed by Evanston, Illinois, in 2017, both included NOW the suggestions.
Portland relaxed dress code is considered a success, said Carol Campbell, principal at Grant high School.
Campbell said students wear appropriate clothing most of the time, and it was “a huge relief” that the staff could now focus on education, rather than necklines and hemlines.
“It has changed the culture of how the students see each other,” she said. “When we have rules and dress codes that specifically focus on one group, it sounds as if we blame of that group, which always tend to be with women.”
Students in Alameda, Portland and Evanston have the freedom to wear mostly anything as long as it includes a bottom, top, shoes, covers the private part and do not contain violent images, hate speech, profanity or pornography.
Vague language in the old Alameda policy caused confusion, which led to arbitrary enforcement, students and teachers said. There was, for example, a “three-finger rule of the width of the tank top straps and a ban on shorts and skirts shorter than “mid-thigh” and a rule against “low-cut tops.”
Girls with more developed bodies, were often chosen discipline, ranging from lunch detention, picking up trash on the campus, a phone call home or to change into baggy clothes.
Stella Bourgoin said she makes her sixth-grade daughter dress up, but she supports the policy, especially for the convenience.
“If you go to a shop, each jeans has a tear in it. It is easier this way,” Bourgoin said.
Associated Press writer Gillian Flaccus in Portland, Oregon, contributed to this report