Parents, students and teachers in Chilliwack now have some district-wide clothing guidelines, including what to do if a student isn’t conforming to them.
But the path to adopting Student Dress Guidelines Policy 534 was a bumpy one full of amendments, discussions at a committee level, and even a community online forum process. There have been conversations about morals, bra straps and boys’ being distracted by girls’ clothing — or lack thereof. But brand-new the policy received final approval on Tuesday night, with Trustees Barry Neufeld and Heather Maahs eventually voting against it. Trustee Darrell Furgason was absent.
A motion was made by Trustee Willow Reichelt in March to “end the practice of policing girls’ bodies” in schools. She said she had been hearing stories of students being “dress coded” for clothing infractions, sometimes as innocuous as a bit of bra strap showing on a shoulder. At that meeting, a middle school student modeled a modest outfit covering all but two inches of her bra straps that she was pulled into the office for.
But Reichelt’s proposed policy at the time was considered too prescriptive by some trustees, and even saying Reichelt was using her own “worldview” to push an agenda. Maahs called some of her fellow trustees “ideologues” on social media following the meeting.
The board decided to send the policy to their Education Policy Advisory Committee (EPAC), which is chaired by Trustee David Swankey. The resulting policy came back to the board on Tuesday to a lukewarm reception. It also kicked off a fresh debate about the role of the EPAC.
Reichelt was the most vocal about her disappointment in the policy they were faced with, saying she “more than a little dismayed.”
“I brought forward the idea of creating a district-wide dress code policy with the express purpose of ending the discriminatory practice of policing girls’ bodies. This is not a trivial issue: Dress coding causes lasting damage for girls, even long after their school years are over,” she said, reading a letter from a graduate of a Chilliwack school who is still bothered by her treatment 10 years ago.
She said the policy EPAC sent back did not have the same intent of the policy that was initially written. She said the fact that trustees who fiercely opposed her original policy were supportive of what EPAC sent back was proof it was drastically different.
“I want the shaming of girls in our district to end, along with the misogynistic thinking that puts more value on a girl in a turtleneck than a girl in a tube top,” she said from a written statement. “As such, I put forward a policy that would apply across the district, emphasized that respect was owed to everyone regardless of their clothing choices, and placed modesty/appropriateness decisions in the hands of families. That’s the policy that was passed on to EPAC by the board for review and feedback.”
She also cited support for her original intent from an online forum on ThoughtExchange, and said those voices should be respected.
“I want EPAC to have a strong voice when it comes to policy development,” she said. “However, I cannot support the policy that EPAC has sent back to us.”
She proposed an amendment, which included large chunks of additional text throughout EPAC’s suggested policy. Her amendment won support, and the idea of sending the policy back to EPAC failed.
The policy states that dress codes should be created in consultation with parents, staff and students. While that wording existed in some schools’ dress codes previously, many parents have said they have been told parents do not have a say in creating dress codes. Dress codes must also now be “constructive rather than punitive so that correction or discipline is not required,” and “focus on safety rather than modesty.”
Students are still expected to dress appropriately for school, however the policy states “if a student comes to school dressed in clothing that is not appropriate for the day’s activities, this should be dealt with in a way that does not cause shame or loss of learning time.”
As for who is responsible for clothing decisions?
“Parents have a responsibility to send their children to school in clothes that allow them to learn and/or play,” the policy states. “Students have a responsibility to dress in clothing that meets health and safety standards for all intended activities.”