Visalia Unified sews up more equitable dress code

School board approves new dress code to reduce violations unfairly targeting specific groups of students such as female students and students of color

VISALIA – Visalia Unified School District finalizes new student dress codes for the upcoming school year.

The new dress codes were approved by the school board on June 28 for the 2022-23 school year. Rules will be more relaxed than previous dress codes, ensuring it is equitable to all students regardless of gender, race, religion or sexual orientation. The district’s revised dress code seeks to limit missed class time, eliminate any potential for humiliation and ensure unbiased enforcement among genders and student groups.

The new policy emphasizes that all students should be able to dress appropriately and comfortably at school free from the fear of discipline or humiliation. Therefore, a student’s clothing cannot be regulated based on another student or staff member’s personal perspective but should instead be regulated to prevent interference with students’ health or safety, and to ensure a non threatening and welcoming environment.

Visalia Unified staff will undergo training to understand the purpose and goals of the dress code changes. Staff will be required to enforce the dress code consistently, without making judgment calls left up to personal discretion, and trained to use body-positive language when enforcing the dress code to minimize any impact on student learning and self-confidence.

The only specific items banned in the new dress code will be strapless or backless tops and tops that reveal the midriff. Students will also not be allowed to wear clothing or have personal items that promote any of the following: violent language or images; depictions of vaping, drugs, or alcohol; hate speech; profanity; pornography; anything creating an intimidating or hostile environment.

Further, students will not be disciplined for dressing in a way that fits their gender identity or with their religious or cultural experiences. No student will be discriminated against based on their hairstyles.

The overhaul of the dress code across the district began in 2018. A group of students began working with the district to address the inequality in the old dress code policy. There was a larger impact on girls, as the code had more regulations on girls’ clothing. Since girls were being sent out of the classroom for infractions more than boys, they were losing more class time than their male peers.

Dress codes have been a recent topic of conversation all over the country for being more restrictive of female students. Rules about grooming tend to target textured hair and protective styles – including locs, braids, cornrows and twists – worn by students of color, particularly Black students, in order to protect the ends of their hair to prevent breakage and promote growth.

American students have spoken out against dress codes, citing that they shame girls for their bodies and disproportionately take girls out of class. VUSD’s new dress code joins many schools across the country in aiming to address those issues directly and make schools a safe and equal learning environment.

The new dress code was piloted during the 2021-22 school year. The revised dress code was presented at the district meeting on June 28 and approved. 

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