Some Sierra Vista teachers apparently are quite sensitive about what they wear.
At least that’s the impression created after a healthy debate at a Sierra Vista school board meeting earlier this month. The mere mention of reviewing the district’s dress code drew a critical response from Buena High School teacher Rachael Henry, who proceeded to question whether board members had their priorities straight.
Slow your roll, Ms. Henry, reviewing the dress code — and other district policies — is well within the province of board authority. Board president Yulonda Boutte handled the castigation gracefully and proceeded to explain that it’s important to include a group of people in reviewing and possibly revising the policy. She called for the appointment of a committee to include board members, teachers, support staff and administrators to review the existing policy.
Dress codes are subjective. One person’s definition of casual wear is another person’s definition of formal wear. The intent of this policy is to ensure that clothing isn’t a distraction from learning. If the existing policy has accomplished that, then the committee’s work should be completed quickly.
The proposal to revisit the policy is forward-thinking. Beyond what people wear, we anticipate that the school district will also have to consider recent trends that can be a distraction in a school environment. Tattoos, piercings, and hair color are just a few of the latest fashions that can raise eyebrows and inspire questions of professionalism.
Setting an appropriate standard, with that benchmark being the potential impact on learning, is the responsibility of the board. These elected, and often unappreciated, governing officials are accountable to parents and the public for each and every policy enforced by the district. An occasional review of policies should be a routine practice, not a reactionary solution.
There has also been a significant change in the language of dress code — and other — school policies. Gendered language that points specifically to what females wear is sexist and creates the idea that females can be blamed for a male’s response. It can also create a double standard, for example, setting the length of a dress but not questioning the length of a boy’s shorts. Targeting styles of clothing that are mostly associated with a particular minority group can be discriminatory. When styles such as “sagging pants” are the issue, we are putting a burden predominantly on Black males.
Crafting a dress code isn’t what it used to be before our society recognized the importance of diversity and raised the consciousness of subtle forms of discrimination.
Assuming it has been a while since the school district has reviewed this policy, and considering the rapidly changing norms in today’s society, we laud the governing board’s decision to conduct this review.