Fairfax County Approves Dress Code Changes

Most people would be shocked to learn that
the majority of concerns that I receive from students focus on one issue: it’s not student
stress, not mental health, not over-testing, not school food, but instead, our dress code. As these concerns have come to me in increasing
numbers over the years, they have unsurprisingly come disproportionally from one demographic:
our female students. Until I began receiving these letters and
messages from students, I didn’t fully grasp the problematic nature of our dress code. I imagine that many members of our community
have also been surprised to learn what’s in it. In its unedited form, the vast majority of
banned items explicitly target women, just like so many other dress codes around the
country. It references cleavage, midriffs, low-cut
necklines that show cleavage, tube tops, halter tops, backless blouses, or blouses with only
ties in the back. Tonight, this Board will correct the multigenerational
mistake that has allowed this inherently sexist dress code to be perpetuated. We will call for an end to the explicit targeting,
objectifying and shaming of girls. And let me be clear—this is not a Fairfax
County problem alone—the issue extends far beyond our schools. We are amidst a national dialogue about respecting
women, and our nation is on the verge of ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment. It’s long past time that these institutional
inequities be addressed not just in Fairfax, but everywhere. Clothing is one of the most personal things
to each of us. While for some, it can serve as simply a utilitarian
form of covering the body, for most of us it is also a form of self-expression. How institutions judge one’s clothing has
a strong affect on an individual’s self-image and self-worth. How schools judge student clothing can have
an immeasurable impact on student stress, mental health and feelings of acceptance at
a critical formative time in their lives. While I cannot speak to dress code infractions
from personal experience—after all, I never had to worry about the length of my shorts
or the width of my dress straps—I can use some of my time tonight to share some of the
countless horror stories that have been sent to me by students over the years to give each
of them a voice: One graduate wrote to me: In 2005 I was nine. I carefully picked out my picture day dress
at my favorite store. It was the most beautiful dress I had seen. I went to school feeling confident and happy,
and like I was the prettiest girl in school, only to have one of my teachers quickly shame
me for my dress in front of my classmates. I was instantly crushed, and I lost my confidence. The entire day I was forced to wear my jacket,
and she threatened to not even let me take it off for my picture. I’m now 22, and it’s one of the few things
I remember from elementary school. One student wrote: My 7th grade math teacher
made me stand up in front of the entire class, called me “miss shortie shorts”, and then
he said my running shorts did not go down to my fingertips so they weren’t appropriate. Another student wrote: In sixth grade my principal
told me my shorts didn’t reach my unproportional arms. I had to call my mom in tears and tell her
to bring me pants because my shorts were too short. I felt so embarrassed and upset because I
had to miss all of art class waiting for my mom to come. Another wrote: I got dress coded so much in
middle school that I was actually scared to wear shorts. I had to go to the office and miss class because
I was “distracting boys from education.” I guess my education didn’t matter as much
as the length of my shorts. Another wrote: For my junior year homecoming,
I got to the dance and a staff member asked me in front of all of my friends where the
rest of my dress was. The dress I wore was knee length and my mom
approved. I was so embarrassed. And yet another wrote: Our school resource officer
directed another student to “Go get that student right there.” When the one student brought the other student
over, the resource officer proceeded to ask in front of us all “Where is the rest of
your shirt? Did you leave it at home?” The young lady was embarrassed and disrespected
in front of her peers. These are only a handful of stories, and there
are probably thousands more out there like them. To protect future generations of girls from
these situations, tonight I am bringing forward a proposal to address the issues they have
raised. My proposal has two parts: First, reduce the
gendered aspects of our dress code; and, second, add a provision to maintain student privacy
and dignity in dress code conversations. I will be the first to admit that the language
in this proposal is not perfect. Our dress code certainly never has been perfect,
and it likely never will be. But this pushes our system in the right direction. Like so many things that we do, it requires
doing what’s best for students and also ensuring that school staff have objective
standards to work from. We will never be able to list every specific
example, and if we did, it would result in a return to targeting girls. It is impossible to anticipate every situation,
and there will always be subjectivity. As a result, the most critical part of changing
this code will be the training that accompanies it to ensure that our school administrators
and staff respect the privacy and dignity of all of our students. Our staff has committed to embarking on that
training in advance of the coming school year. Moving forward, as a system, we must do all
we can to change the culture where it’s accepted to publicly call out and shame girls
for what they wear. I am extremely grateful to Assistant Superintendent
Teresa Johnson and MaryAnn Panarelli for their immense help in crafting this proposal and
for working with our principals and legal counsel to come up with language that would
be acceptable to as many stakeholders as possible. I am hopeful that our efforts here tonight
will be heard far beyond these walls and serve as encouragement other school districts around
the country to follow our path; I hope Fairfax be a catalyst for a nationwide conversation
about the importance of ending body shaming and maintaining the dignity of students. To all the girls who have been targeted and
publicly shamed as a result of our dress code: whatever we do tonight will not make up for
what you experienced. I want to publicly and sincerely apologize
to you. I want you to know that I am so sorry that
it has taken so long for us to make this important change. Please know that the experiences you have
shared have helped inform us, and I am so proud of you for pushing tirelessly for this
important change. And to our current and future generations
of students: I want you to know that, should this amendment pass tonight, this school board
and school system will do everything in our power to ensure that you are given the respect
and dignity you deserve, and that you are never shamed again.

8 thoughts on “Fairfax County Approves Dress Code Changes

  1. Omg I hope you see this but thank you so much I’m so happy I’m crying tears of joy I constantly was told this year that my straps wear to small and told by my teacher to go put a tank top under my shirt because my stomach was seen to much when I run and that I had to put a jacket over my clothing each day I had to pick my outfits carefully for fear of getting dresscoded thank you 🙏

  2. i teachers need to start teaching boys to not “get distracted” by us! we shouldn’t have to change how we express ourselves because boys/men cant concentrate.

  3. More people should watch this. A very sincere man, thank you. 💖💖💖

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