Home System concept Feeling isolated, female students protest high school dress code

Feeling isolated, female students protest high school dress code


The Kansas Reflector hosts opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of broadening the conversation about how public policy affects the daily lives of people across our state. Linda Ditch has been a freelance writer for two decades.

School dress codes have often been lightning rods to the discontent of students. But are they sexist?

A recent New York Times article highlighted a 2020 study that found that most dress codes analyzed clothing choices for women much more than for men. Some clothes were banned simply because they were considered sexy.

This concept was recently unearthed at Washburn Rural High School, just south of Topeka in Shawnee County. On September 3, students protested the dress code by wearing prohibited clothing. Most wore tank tops, some with sayings such as “My body, my choice”. As they entered the building, staff sent them to the auditorium.

Junior Mackenzie Smith shared his experience during an address at the Auburn Washburn USD 437 School Board meeting the following Tuesday. She noted that around 30 students were brought into the auditorium and threatened with detention. Her boyfriend, Christian Ryan, gave her a pull-on sweatshirt, but she was still detained. He told the board that some young men also protested by wearing prohibited clothing such as pajama pants and crop tops, but he only heard of one reprimanded.

“Personally, I believe it’s not fair to pick women out when we come into school and be treated unfairly that way,” Smith said.

The part of the dress code that causes the most significant problem reads: “The final decision as to whether the clothing is acceptable or not will be made by the administration. The basis of this judgment is whether the clothes are considered a distraction from the educational environment.

Young demonstrators felt left out because staff felt their clothes distracted students and male staff.

“I think there has to be a dress code,” Smith told the board. “I believe the written form of our dress code is very professional. I think there are some drafting errors, but this can be revised. My question for you today is, how are you going to prevent something like Friday from happening? We need to protect our daughters. We need to educate them and make sure they are comfortable going to high school every day. “

Principal Ed Raines said days after the board meeting that staff are stationed at the entrances each morning to ensure students comply with the mask-wearing mandate. He was told that 25 to 30 students participated in the protest out of a total of 2,000 students. By the time he arrived at the auditorium, all but 12 had returned to class.

“It’s not unusual for us, as children enter the building, to mention the dress code violations that we see,” he said. “The vast majority of the conversations we have with students about dress code are informal. Many of them never entered our student management system because we are able to resolve the vast majority of them quite easily. “

Students who break the dress code have the option to change into something else.

They can choose from the clothes available in the office or have someone bring them clothes from home. Raines searched the student management system and found 18 disciplinary incidents, 14 for men and four for women, mostly due to non-compliance. But he also understood the perception of singling out female students.

“The language of the dress code is largely the same since I arrived in Rural 15 years ago,” Raines said. “It’s often through these kinds of situations that we end up evaluating the policy to see if it’s still relevant. I think one of the unfortunate words we use in our policy is “distraction”. Because in reality, it’s not so much about that as setting the tone for what a more formal environment like a school should be like in terms of dress.

All Kansas school districts need to take a closer look at the sexism inherent in their dress codes. The first step should be an open conversation with the students to forge a policy acceptable to the whole school community.

Perhaps we should look to the words of Christian Ryan, who also spoke to the school board about the Washburn Rural dress code.

“I think that’s putting the Washburn men down by saying that we can’t control ourselves and make it the problem of young women,” he said. “They shouldn’t have to submit so that we young men can control ourselves. If this is really a problem, then the administration should have a discussion with the young men about how they should be composed. … I think it’s really important that we instill in these young men the feeling that they need to protect each other and their female peers.

Through its opinion section, the Kansas Reflector works to amplify the voices of those affected by public policy or excluded from public debate. Find information, including how to submit your own comment, here.