Dress codes are always a hot topic, and they can be very contentious. A new dress code issued by Forney ISD is the latest to make headlines. The North Texas district is now banning all items with a hoodie and all dresses (including skirts and skorts) for students after the fourth grade.
Other restrictions in this new dress code: all shirts must be a solid color; shorts and pants must be navy, black, or khaki; no jeans, overalls, or any denim; no t-shirts or sleeveless shirts; and nothing with holes in it. If students fail to meet dress code expectations, they will be given an opportunity to correct any violations while on campus. If they fail to do so, they will be placed in ISS until the issue is resolved.
The district has stated that the new dress code is intended to nurture professionalism, prepare kids for the workplace, and help students with their careers. FISD also reasons that the dress code can “improve student self-esteem, bridge socio-economic differences among students, and promote positive behavior”. These are all positive goals and important public values. But will a dress code that is essentially a uniform help achieve those goals?
Some families like uniforms for their ease and simplicity; many do not. Furthermore, such an intense focus on a student’s future in the workplace can be appropriate for upper grade high school students. But fifth graders?
The district claims that this new dress code reflects the values of the community, but it is unclear if the community had any say in it. There has been backlash from families, of course, including multiple petitions to stop this change.
Dress codes are spotlighted in the media when they clearly showcase racist or intolerant attitudes. It appears that FISD is attempting to sidestep this issue by being so very restrictive that all forms of self-expression and unique identity are now taboo. However, some clothing—such as dresses and hoodies—are functional, not just examples of creative expression. Furthermore, clothing can also be a part of one’s religious identity and customs. Dresses and head coverings may become a very contested part of these new restrictions.
Past litigation outcomes—not to mention the well-being of students— have shown that we need to be very careful with dress codes. If you’re looking for more guidance on how to navigate dress codes in your district, Jim Walsh shared insight into this topic at the Education Law Conference for Principals just last week. Registration for this event is still open, and online access to the recorded conference is available through August 15th.
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