The District 65 board members Monday told administrators to revise the school dress code to be more inclusive, less punitive and more consistent with Evanston Township High School’s policy.
At a meeting last December, the board directed the administration to review the dress code policy after students and parents submitted a petition requesting that the ETHS dress code be adopted by District 65 and requested a change, “specifically addressing the amount of skin exposed and the student mindset implied by the existing policy,” according to a staff memo.
Andalib Khelghati, assistant superintendent of schools, presented dress code policies from various schools, including nearby districts as well as San Francisco and Portland, to the board’s policy committee Monday night.
Board member Sunith Kartha supported adapting the ETHS dress code for grades K-8. The policy has been locally developed, she said, and starts with a framing statement that the dress code “supports equitable educational access and is written in a manner that does not reinforce stereotypes.”
Board member Joseph Hailpern emphasized that the policy and student handbook should be “explicit about what students may and may not do,” to avoid hot button issues such as a teacher objecting to a student with pink hair and sending them out of class. “The focus should be more on school work and less on what you’re wearing,” he said.
During public comment, three female District 65 students described incidents of what they called inappropriate behavior by teachers, such as publicly calling out a student’s clothing as being inappropriate, applying standards inconsistently for boys and girls and frequently asking girls to put their arms down to determine if a skirt or shorts meets the standard of being longer than fingertip length.
They also said that teachers sometimes won’t explain why an item of clothing is inappropriate.
Board member Sergio Hernandez said that ETHS has “pulled away from punitive aspects” of the dress code policy and that the ETHS and Portland policies were similar. The Portland policy is also explicit about the role of teachers and staff, he noted.
Hailpern noted that changing a policy is a long process, involving feedback from students, parents and teachers and applying the equity impact assessment tool, not to mention training. He suggested that changes be made to the student handbook soon to address some of the more obvious issues, while the more extensive work to revise the policy be allowed to take the time required.
Superintendent Paul Goren summarized the consensus of the group as a direction to: mesh the Portland and ETHS dress code policies, engage school climate teams and administrators in developing the new policy, and work out a schedule for the change. Meanwhile, he said, they would tweak the handbook in areas they could change now.
A revised policy is expected to be presented to the Board in September.