School board approves new district-wide dress code aimed at inclusiveness

By Zora Lotton-Barker and Daniel Davidson

USD 497 is implementing a new dress code policy across all district schools that aims to be more inclusive.

School board members gave final approval to the policy with a 7-0 vote at their Nov. 25 meeting.

School board member Shannon Kimball said the new dress code policy will be more inclusive.

“It will establish a single dress code policy, applicable to all schools,” Kimball said. “The policy is designed to be gender-neutral, to acknowledge that each member of the school community is responsible for managing their own distractions and to emphasize that dress code enforcement, when necessary, should be carried out in a way that does not remove students unnecessarily from instructional time and does not subject them to being called out for their attire in front of their peers.”

Under the soon-to-be-dismissed school dress code, clothing that has the potential to cause a disturbance isn’t allowed. That means teachers have a large part in determining if a clothing item is causing a disturbance.

It also stated that teachers may allow hats in their classes. Attire connected to religious practice must be allowed.

Also, that code has prohibited several types of clothing, including those that have references to alcohol, drugs or gangs, have offensive language, promote or convey hate messages, endanger the student or others, or distract to the point of interfering with the teaching and learning process.

Students shouldn’t expect to see a big change after implementation of the new policy.

Freshman London Scholz attended a meeting in which student council members were allowed to give their opinions about the dress code before the policy was finished.

“At the StuCo meeting, Mama J came and talked to us about the dress code and allowed us to give our input. She really honors our opinions and cares what we have to say, which is nice,” Scholz said of Principal Cynthia Johnson. “She let us read over the rough draft and make any final changes before it was finalized.”

Student body secretary Hadley Bird said she thought students would adapt easily.

“I thought the dress code was very reasonable,” she said, “and I don’t think many students will have a problem with it.”

Scholz said the dress code is a good compromise.

“It isn’t super restricting and still allows us to express ourselves but in the same manner it also ensures that we are dressing appropriately for school,” Scholz said. “For example, girls can still wear tank tops, halter tops, tube tops etc. but they can’t be too revealing and can’t be see-through. I hope everyone will understand the changes and learn to compromise.”

The new policy requires violations of the dress code to be resolved in a private manner, something Free State senior Sabrina Castle finds especially important.

“As a young girl, it was completely humiliating to be called out in front of the entire class,” Castle said at the Nov. 25 board meeting. “That can be really distracting for an education.”

The changes will create continuity throughout the school district, which previously had six different versions of dress code policies at its secondary building.

“Also, enforcement of the dress code was subjective and at times did not meet the expectation that it be applied neutrally and fairly,” Kimball said. “The new code will apply to all schools, but typically the levels it is most used are middle and high school.”

Kimball said the district needed to update the dress code so that it was more inclusive to ethnic minorities as well. Many of the proposed changes are meant to address issues that arise from dress code enforcement that disproportionately impact students of color or other groups of students. Kimball said the district sought input from the district’s Equity Advisory Council and the Parents of Color Advisory Team.

The language of the new dress code has been tailored so that it will not negatively impact any sort of group, according to Kimball.

“The language of the proposed dress code, the language around enforcement, and the guidance and training that will be provided to staff will emphasize that the dress code should not be applied or interpreted in a way that targets particular groups of students,” Kimball said.

The board will review the new policy in a year and consider needed updates.

Daniel Davidson made minor contributions to this report.