Tuesday, November 21, 2017
Education

My daughter was dress-coded for wearing shorts

RECOMMENDED READING


I took the photo at right in May 2012 of my then sixth-grade daughter in the lobby of her New Jersey school. Rebecca had a solo in her chorus concert that evening, and wanted a keepsake of the day. In my eye, she is the vision of pre-teen enthusiasm and confidence.

School officials deemed otherwise. Her shorts violated the "fingertip" rule of the South Orange-Maplewood School District — whereby shorts or skirts must "reach to the fingertips of the extended arm" — now notorious in middle school vernacular. Shortly after I snapped the shot, she was pulled from class and sent to detention, where she was ordered to don a Hester Prynne-style "shirt of shame" for the rest of the school day — an oversized men's shirt that covered her from neck to shins.

Every spring, the dress code wars arise anew. Parents get a slew of e-blasts from school administrators, like this one from the principal of a nearby middle school: "Dress code continues to be a concern, specifically with our female students." There is talk about clothes interfering with establishing and maintaining a "learning environment" — prompting the question of whose "learning environment" is being prioritized, and at whose expense. Scripted morning announcements at my daughter's school include daily reminders, "to the young ladies," about the importance of wearing appropriate attire.

Similar dress code stories swirl around the Internet — from Evanston, Illinois, where a ban on leggings sparked community outrage (and the best protestor sign yet: "Are my pants lowering your test scores?"), to Montreal, Canada, where a student was suspended for protesting her school's practice of lining up girls to assess the length of their shorts and the width of their tank top straps.

And it isn't just secondary schools. A sign posted on the door of the nursing school at the University of Texas listed off-limits attire for women that otherwise "distracts from the learning environment." And in Utah, a high school digitally altered yearbook photos to cover up girls' shoulders and other body parts.

After my daughter was punished on that spring day two years ago, I've struggled with this issue. I've vetoed bat mitzvah dresses I deemed too short, camisoles too low-cut. It is a fine line: I want her to feel comfortable in her skin.

But parenting teenagers is all about the gray areas; our discussions about dress and self-awareness leave room for nuance. In rejecting an outfit, I have never, ever communicated to my child that her dress was a "distraction" to others, or that she bore responsibility if someone reacted in any way — favorably, rudely, distracted, or otherwise — to her body. That schools are passing on this very message to her and other female students—and simultaneously communicating to boys that their learning environment is being compromised by the sight of girls' limbs or cleavage — is unhealthy and unsound at best, illegal at worst.

The debate has taken on new meaning in the aftermath of the Santa Barbara rampage — as national attention has shifted to how the misogyny embedded in our culture results in violence against women, in numbers that are shocking. The kids are wise to it too. Some have started attaching the hashtag #yesallwomen to Instagram photos and statements representing how they feel about the way their school singles out girls for attention, punishment, and, yes, blame. Another rallying cry: #Iammorrethanadistraction. Those hashtags give me hope that our girls will not so easily be shamed — that they get what's going on — but it's up to us parents to stand up to school administrators, to e-blast them right back.

My daughter was punished for showing too much of her (gasp!) legs. Her school is normalizing the notion that girls' bodies are a distraction. That girls bear responsibility for boys' reactions to their bodies. That boys have thoughts that are inherently impure and will lead to misconduct. The school's chosen mode of punishment is disrupting girls' educations.

The message and actions perpetuated by gender-biased implementation of school dress codes — the blaming and shaming of our girls — has got to stop.

Jennifer Weiss-Wolf is Director of Special Projects at the Brennan Center for Justice. A parent of three teenagers, she lives in Maplewood, NJ.

Comments
10 African-Americans named Rhodes scholars, most ever

10 African-Americans named Rhodes scholars, most ever

Associated PressThe latest group of U.S. Rhodes scholars includes 10 African-Americans — the most ever in a single Rhodes class — as well as a transgender man and four students from colleges that had never had received the honor before. The Rhodes Tr...
Published: 11/19/17

Class notes

School Calendar• Nov. 27: School resumes after Thanksgiving break• Dec. 22: End of second grading quarter.• Dec. 23-Jan. 7: Winter Break.• Jan. 8: Teacher planning day. No school for students.Arts/Music/TheaterCenter for the Arts at River Ridge Middl...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Makerspace lab exposes Eastside students to tech skills and fun

Makerspace lab exposes Eastside students to tech skills and fun

BROOKSVILLE — The lab at Eastside Elementary School looks high tech, featuring new flooring, cabinets and furniture. Assistant Principal Michael Lastra calls it cutting edge."It’s not like your typical classroom," Lastra said. "The school wanted it t...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Pasco school district proposes future changes to west-side elementary and middle school zones

Pasco school district proposes future changes to west-side elementary and middle school zones

Plans to erase the attendance boundaries for Ridgewood High School have grabbed all the attention.But the Pasco County school district also has proposed changes to west-side elementary and middle school zones for consideration this fall.They’re just ...
Published: 11/15/17
Updated: 11/16/17
At St. Petersburg High, alums push to complete private funding for home field improvements

At St. Petersburg High, alums push to complete private funding for home field improvements

ST. PETERSBURG — The athletic facilities at St. Petersburg High are just like Bob Carter remembers from 50 years ago.He recalls it all fondly: The concession stands, ticket booths and bathrooms are still the same. The track is still outdated asphalt,...
Published: 11/15/17
In union push at USF, adjunct professors strive for more respect and a living wage

In union push at USF, adjunct professors strive for more respect and a living wage

TAMPA — Robert Ryan cleaned out his office in May. He knew he was dying.He had kept driving to the University of South Florida even as he lost the use of his left arm. He had kept teaching English, even as tumors ravaged his mouth so that he could ha...
Published: 11/14/17
Updated: 11/17/17
Hillsborough Education Foundation, Yoobi team to surprise students

Hillsborough Education Foundation, Yoobi team to surprise students

The kids at Bing Elementary knew something special was about to happen when a six-foot white dog with a "target" over his right eye walked into the classroom.And they were right.On Tuesday (Nov. 14), volunteers and corporate supporters joined the Hil...
Published: 11/14/17
Updated: 11/16/17
New aviation programs at PHSC help propel students toward dreams

New aviation programs at PHSC help propel students toward dreams

DADE CITY — Dustin Snodgrass has a photograph of himself as a child in the pilot’s seat of a kid-size model airplane. Snodgrass, now 28, recently took a big step toward his goal of flying real aircraft with his first solo flight through a new profess...
Published: 11/14/17
Updated: 11/16/17
Hillsborough teachers show up in the hundreds to clamor for promised raises

Hillsborough teachers show up in the hundreds to clamor for promised raises

TAMPA — A weeks-long salary standoff between the Hillsborough County School District and its teachers hit an emotional peak Tuesday as hundreds of teachers and students turned out to ask the School Board for their promised raises."War has been declar...
Published: 11/14/17
Updated: 11/15/17
Romano: Sorry teachers, you simply can’t win this one

Romano: Sorry teachers, you simply can’t win this one

When it comes to your principles, there is no shame in putting up a fight.You can fight City Hall, and you can fight the power. According to the song, you can fight the law. You can even fight the good fight, whatever that means.But you cannot fight ...
Published: 11/14/17