Pandemic or not, students have always been frustrated with their schools’ strict and unfair dress codes. At some schools, camouflage isn’t allowed, while at other schools students can’t wear certain graphic t-shirts or tank tops with thin straps. At its core, dress codes are put in place to ensure students are focusing more on learning than what they’re wearing. It also aims to create a more serious and professional learning experience.
While dress codes generally have good intentions, more often than not that they can be discriminatory, and can taint the learning experience. The dress code debate gets especially heated when it comes to the way female students are treated in relation to their clothing. Students have been made to feel like objects after being suspended over a skirt which was seen as too short by school administration.
This issue becomes further complicated given the intersection of race and gender. When Black girls are though to have broken the dress code they are punished more harshly than their white peers. Not only does this make the learning experience a negative one, but also disrupts their education when Black girls are suspended or expelled over attire.
These discriminatory policies are frequently justified by schools with the argument that certain clothes can be distracting for other students – i.e. male students. Such an argument puts the responsibility on female students instead of directing that responsibility to male students who should be able to control how they respond or react to a fellow student wearing something that exposes their shoulders or legs.
Now that a large number of schools are online versus in person, one would think that dress codes are a rather low priority. Instead, schools across the United States have implemented strict dress codes for Zoom.
At any other point in time a school district may feebly defend their dress code in the name of having students wear clothes that aren’t distracting enough to disturb the learning experience and get away with it. But, now that students are learning from their homes this argument has no basis. With everyone on a camera which shows a person only from the neck up, a dress code seems more like way for schools to exercise their control over the student body rather than a method to create a safe learning experience.
In Illinois, the school district has taken their usual dress code and brought it over to remote learning. Students cannot wear pajama pants, slippers, hats, or bandanas in class. Not only are rigid rules in place for what students can wear, but there are also rules in place for where they can learn – which is discriminatory for students who may have inadequate internet service or not many options for a place to learn at home. This consequently adds to the severity of ongoing class disparities in the United States.
The district would prefer that students sit at a desk or table and made it a rule that students have to be sitting up out of bed. Students will only attend in-person classes two times out of the week once the school year begins on August 31st. They claim that the online dress code policy has been put in place to ensure that remote learning is taken as seriously as in-person.
In California students who attend Clovis Unified have also started remote learning with an enforced dress code. Their reasoning is that teachers do not want distractions from any of the students while teaching and so no one can wear tank tops or halter tops. Even mohawks are against the dress code. These bans are intended to make sure students listen, and so teachers are obliged to scan the class before each lesson. In order to make the learning experience as normal as possible, Clovis Unified wants the students to feel like they are in school and the dress code is one way to do that.
Students from kindergarten to college are bound to feel the effects of COVID-19 on their learning experience this year. As they try to grapple with staying home for months on end (again) and not seeing their loved ones or friends., things can get overwhelming. Schools which are enforcing a dress code in the midst of all this seems more like a way for schools to garner control and add unnecessary pressure, while also exacerbating disparity among classmates.
Not to mention that if someone is distracted by their classmate wearing a tank top on Zoom, they may have bigger issues to worry about.
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