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Infographic made by Michelle Chen

Infographic made by Michelle Chen

Dress code revisions

Oak Park high school makes changes to the dress code

Principal Kevin Buchanan made revisions to the Oak Park High School dress code, many of which were intended toward more gender-neutral language.

The revised dress code will be effective as of the 2018-19 school year. Though it has yet to be finalized by the Oak Park Board of Education and other administrators, a draft is available for public viewing on the school website.

“Student attire and grooming must permit the student to participate in learning without posing a risk to the health or safety of any student or school district personnel,” the draft reads, in its preamble.

It then moves on to a set of lettered regulations, from A to J — beginning with, “Students must wear clothing.”

Unlike the current dress code, tube tops and bare midriffs are not prohibited throughout in the revisions. According to Buchanan, this change was deliberate; in fact, it was one of two goals moving forward.

“The references to particular items of clothing have been removed, for the most part,” Buchanan said. “It’s really not about clothing now — it’s just about making sure that certain body parts are covered.”

The revised dress code specifies these body parts as “the chest, back, buttocks and torso.”
The purpose of this first major revision was to dispel the notion that certain types of dress were distracting to other students.

“There was an effort to not blame other students’ inappropriate behaviors on the person who was dressed a certain way,” Buchanan said. “If a kid behaves poorly, then that kid is accountable for his behavior — not the person who was dressed a certain way.”

The second major revision focuses on the consequences, and their enforcement, should a student’s attire be considered in violation of the dress code.

Formerly, teachers, administrators and yard duties were encouraged to send students they considered in violation to the office. Students would then have to either call home for a change of clothes or wear a T-shirt provided by the school (oftentimes, a P.E. shirt).

“[Now] school staff [must] enforce [the revised dress code] without shaming students or disproportionately impacting certain groups,” Buchanan said.

For example, when a staff member approaches a student he or she believes to be in violation, he must discuss it privately with the student — not within eyesight or earshot of any peers.

Furthermore, students who violate the dress code will no longer receive a P.E. shirt to wear. They will only be asked to call home for new clothing.

“It’s discreet,” Buchanan said. “It’s going to be very clean. It’s going to be: ‘It’s the dress code. You’re in violation of it. Do you have something else to wear?’ It’s not going to be: ‘Do you know what people are going to think of you because you dress like that?’”

The revisions are also sensitive to matters of gender identity.

“If we have a [girl] who’s violating the dress code, there needs to be a female staff member involved in talking to [her],” Buchanan said. “If [there’s] a boy, there needs to be a guy in the room. If [there’s] a trans kid, then there needs to be somebody in there who is of the same gender identity as the kid.”

That subjectivity of what is considered appropriate, some students believe, resulted in an unfair enforcement of the current dress code.

“[The language left] too much variability, so that dress coding basically [happened] when an administrator [was] in the mood for it,” senior Sofia Sayyah said. “You see lots of people blatantly breaking the code and not getting caught — because the people in charge decide they don’t care that day. That’s not rule or law or justice; that’s just mood. And I really don’t think that mood should determine how people are punished.”

Alongside mood, misconceptions may also have contributed to enforcement.

“One day, I was wearing a tank top with large-enough straps, and I got dress coded for it,” senior Finley Burger said. “I went in later and asked the administrators, ‘What’s wrong with my top?’ And they said, ‘Your hair was probably covering the straps, so they probably thought you were wearing a tube top.’”

Sophomore Lauren Battin, one of the students who organized the tube top protest Sept. 2017, faulted that dress code for “specifically [targeting] girls.”

“Every single day, multiple of my friends show up sometime during the day in a P.E. t-shirt – Walking around campus is a task for girls because they have to worry about how they look in front of yard duties.””

— Lauren Battin

Buchanan considered these complaints when revising the dress code.

“There is a gender bias that exists in traditional dress codes,” Buchanan said. “That notion of, ‘We’ve gotta desexualize the girls by covering them up…’ that’s a trap that we can fall into. That’s when you start getting into the objectification of the female body, and that’s not where I’m interested in going.”

And though the protest was not the singular motive for revising the dress code, it was the final event that pushed administration in the right direction, according to Buchanan.

“This [new dress code] was already in the works,” Buchanan said. “I’d already done a lot of research on the dress codes from other countries. It’s just been something I’d been dealing with for quite a while. I wasn’t happy with how we were handling it.”

Buchanan considers the new dress code to be more enlightened and modern.

“The dress code is more informed by an understanding that what kids wear does not necessarily define anything, other than what they’re wearing,” Buchanan said. “We don’t want to impose a set of value judgments — inconsistent at that — on the kids. We just want to say, ‘That’s not appropriate. That’s a violation of the dress code. Let’s get you something else to wear.’”

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