VUSD reveals new dress code for fall

Visalia Unified begins their pilot dress code regulations at all sites beginning in the fall 2021 semester, adds an emphasis on equity and enforcement

VISALIA – Visalia Unified is going through a 22-year dress code overhaul beginning next fall with the purpose of equity in mind.

At the June 8 Visalia Unified School District (VUSD) board meeting, equity and student services coordinator Brandon Gridiron spelled out what students would like to see changed in the dress code. For a well-rounded perspective Gridiron met with three different task forces that involved students, parents and the community. What Gridiron realized was that female students felt the dress code unfairly targeted them.

“They felt that they were being dress coded a lot more than our young men were. Everything in relation to dress code was a: pull this, cover this up, do this, you can’t wear that or change that. And for young men, it was more like pull your pants up, put your shirt on,” Gridiron said.

Some of the key changes that were proposed to the board stray away from the more traditional dress code that assigned lengths to shorts, or regulations to the type of straps girls could wear. Instead, the proposed language allows for less regulation as long as it does not disrupt a student’s learning.

From the beginning of Gridiron’s presentation, the proposed language states that, “All students should be able to dress appropriately and comfortably for school without fear of unnecessary discipline or fear of displaying their body in front of others when the dress code is enforced.”

Other proposed language addresses student’s decision to dress according to their gender identity, or their religious and cultural observance. Language also dealt with discrimination against hair texture and protective hairstyles like “braids, locks and twists.” Proposed language also addressed that dress code should not be enforced based on a student or staff member’s “personal perspective or discomfort.” Instead, they added, it should be regulated to, “prevent a student’s attire from interfering with their health and safety…or contribute to a hostile intimidating atmosphere.”

According to Gridiron, the way the dress code has been enforced, has left students feeling embarrassed and ashamed. But most of all they have missed time in class because they have had to leave class and change.

“We’re used to enforcing a dress code this way: we can just tell them go to the office. And that’s easy. And then they sit in the office and they wait to change. Now they’re missing out on class time. They’re embarrassed, they’re so on and so forth,” Gridiron said.

What his meeting with student and community taskforces dealt with the most was how to enforce a new dress code that doesn’t emphasize that a student is violating the dress code, or at least not in a way that is done in front of other students.

Say yes to the dress

Gridiron said that there is no one concrete idea that fits for every situation, but he did say that it is not an issue of whether clothes meet a particular length. What fits on one student may appear longer than what fits on another.

“It’s an issue of the shorts covering what needs to be covered… as long as they’re covering themselves, they’re appropriate. And then when they’re not covering themselves, we deal with that,” Gridiron said.

The proposed language stated that students must be reasonably covered by wearing appropriate bottoms, tops and shoes at all time. And tops must reach the waistband of bottoms regardless of arm position. More explicitly, according to Gridiron’s presentation, clothing must cover underwear, genitals, buttocks and shoulders. However, he did say that there has been pushback over the requirement of covering shoulders.

“What I’m proposing is [covering shoulders to be] taken out… you have parents who feel that wearing a strapless shirt creates more space for things to be shown that are not…And that’s a total assumption,” Gridiron said.

By removing some of the articles of clothing that students would be caught for, there is less of an opportunity that students will miss class.

Under the proposed language students can also wear hats, caps, beanies, durags, and other head coverings outdoors, including religious headwear. They can also wear fitted pants, including leggings, yoga pants and “skinny jeans.” Ripped jeans are also allowed unless they expose a student’s underwear.

What students are not allowed to wear under the proposed language is anything with violent language or images; images or language depicting vaping, drugs or alcohol; hate speech; profanity; pornography; or images and language that creates a hostile or intimidating environment based on any protective class.

Much of the dress code enforcement in the proposed policy centers around helping students meeting expectations. Instead of giving students “intervention”—the district’s term for detention—teachers and administrators should work on the language they use to address violations.

“As we are working with students it’s the kind of language we use in relation to body image and really not wanting to create shaming of student for the clothing they’re wearing,” Gridiron said.

According to Gridiron’s presentation teachers and administrators should be trained on using “body positive language to explain the code and to address code violations. But that does not mean the district will give students endless opportunities to blatantly violate the dress code.

Following the code

There are progressive steps when it comes to enforcement, but not necessarily a “three strikes and you’re out” type of punishment system in the code. Although, Gridiron said there are still interventions for students who come to school violating the dress code. They begin by talking to the students and reminding them about the code and explain how they are violating it.

If a student returns the next day violating the dress code again then the conversation shifts from reminding them, to asking how staff can help students meet the dress code. Gridiron said that during his taskforce meetings students came up with creative ideas to help students who may not have the means to purchase clothes that fit within the rules. It would be considered a “closet” that students would have access to donated clothes.

In the instances where students continue to violate the code after reminders and other forms of intervention then staff enforces the dress code more explicitly.

“Not wanting to meet those expectations are not allowed, it’s not a choice. This is the expectations of schooling,” Gridiron said. “And so there’s this progressive structure that can go into the student having to check into the office in the mornings when they come to school.”

For now, the dress code is a pilot for all school sites beginning in the fall of 2021. The district will accept input from students, staff and parents and collect data on the frequency of dress-related disciplinary action and consistency in enforcement. Staff will return to the board in December of this year for an update, and then return again in May 2022 for a final update on how the pilot went. At that point the superintendent of the district will present the final recommendation for the board to consider.

The final version of the dress code will be implemented next August.

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