The new casual dress code at public schools in the small town of Alameda, across the bay from San Francisco, is intentionally specific: midriff-baring shirts are acceptable attire, as are spaghetti-strap tank tops and other formerly banned items like micro-mini-skirts and short shorts.
As students settle into the new school term, there are no longer restrictions on ripped jeans and hoodies in the classroom. If the students want to come to school in pajamas, that’s fine too.
The new policy amounts to a radical reversal of the modern school dress code and makes Alameda the last U.S. school district to adopt a more permissive policy that it says is less sexist.
The students who initiated the change say many of the old rules that banned too much skin disproportionately targeted girls, while language labeling such attire as “distracting” sent the wrong message.
“If someone is wearing a cropped shirt and you can see their belly, it’s not their fault they’re distracting others,” said Henry Mills, 14, a freshman at Alameda High School who has worked with a committee of college students and teachers. advisors to revise the policy. “There was language that mainly affected girls, and that wasn’t OK.”
Dress codes have long been the territory of divisiveness and rebellion, but the reversal at Alameda shows a generational shift that students and teachers say has been partly influenced by broader gender conversations stemming from the #MeToo movement against sexual misconduct and a national resurgence of student activism. .
Approved by the school board on a trial basis during summer vacation, the new dress code is sparking back-to-school discussions about the role schools should play in socializing children.
There are voices very critical of the new dress code.
Maths teacher Marie Hsu said she was all for fairness, but the new rules send an unintended message that it is fine, even appropriate, to “have sex”.
“It’s okay not to punish girls for being distractions. I completely understand,” said Hsu, who teaches at Lincoln Middle School and resides in Alameda with two young children. “But I think that’s extraordinarily misleading.” Alameda’s mother, Paula Walker, says she may be “old school,” but she didn’t care about the ban on revealing clothes.
“They say kids start everything younger, and I’m like, well, that’s because you’re throwing it in their face,” Walker said.
Dress codes and their strictness vary widely nationally. Twenty-four states have policies that give local school districts the power to adopt their own uniform dress codes or policies, according to the States Education Commission, a nonprofit that tracks education policy. .
Some have statewide policies, such as Arkansas, which passed a 2011 law requiring school districts “to prohibit the wearing of clothing that exposes a child’s undergarments, buttocks, or chest.” a woman”.
A Texas high school recently came under fire for a back-to-school dress code video that featured only girls. Video played at Marcus High School in a suburb of Dallas showed girls in short shorts being scolded as MIA’s song “Bad Girls” played in the background. The students called it sexist on social media, prompting the principal to apologize, saying the video “completely missed the mark”.
Alameda’s new dress code was modeled after a policy suggested by the Oregon Chapter of the National Organization for Women, drafted in 2016 to “update and improve” dress codes, avoid rules that enforce gender stereotypes and minimize unnecessary discipline or “body shaming”.
Portland, Oregon’s public school district adopted a new policy in 2016, followed by Evanston, Illinois, in 2017, both of which incorporated NOW’s suggestions.
Portland’s casual dress code is considered a success, said Grant High School principal Carol Campbell.
Campbell said students wore appropriate clothing most of the time and it was “a huge relief” that staff can now focus on teaching, rather than necklines and hemlines.
“It changed the culture of how students see themselves,” she said. “When we have rules and dress codes that specifically target one group, it feels like we’re blaming that group, which has always tended to be women.”
Students at Alameda, Portland, and Evanston have the freedom to wear almost anything as long as it includes a bottom, top, shoes, covers private parts, and does not contain violent imagery, hate speech, profanity or pornography.
Vague language in Alameda’s old policy caused confusion, leading to arbitrary enforcement, students and teachers said. There was, for example, a “three-finger” rule on the width of tank top straps and a ban on shorts and skirts shorter than “mid-thigh” and a rule against “low-cut tank tops”.
Girls with larger bodies were often singled out for disciplinary action ranging from detention for lunch, picking up trash on campus, being called home on the phone, or having to change into baggy clothes.
Stella Bourgoin said she made her sixth-grade daughter dress modestly, but supported politics primarily for convenience.
“If you go to a store, every pair of jeans has a tear. It’s easier that way,” Bourgoin said.