Oswego High School senior Madeline Leigh sat before the SD308 Board of Education Monday evening only days before her graduation to call for changes to the district's student dress code in the student handbook.
The 2017-2018 edition of the student handbook currently prohibits clothing that is, “Extremely tight fitting, cleavage-baring, fails to cover the midriff, halter-tops, sheer/see-through clothing, strapless tops/dresses, tops with spaghetti straps, shorts, skirts, dresses that are above mid-thigh, shredded clothing, or night wear.”
When the board voted to approve changes proposed by the district's Parent/Policy Advisory Committee at its April 23 meeting, the above passage was removed from the dress code, and revised to feature language that would require students to wear, “Clothing including both a shirt with shorts, pants, skirt, or the equivalent and shoes.”
Several rules remain; including that student clothing must refrain from causing a disruption in a classroom, though the code's language of "Revealing, suggestive and/or disruptive" clothing was changed to “Clothing that is extremely tight-fitting; clothing that does not cover the midriff, genitals, buttocks or chest; sheer/see-through material; clothing that is above mid-thigh; or clothing that is shredded.” Undergarments must also be covered by clothing, according to the new passage.
But Leigh sees room where the code could be improved. Two weeks ago, Leigh started a petition on the website, change.org, titled "Change the SD308 Students Dress Code."
At Monday's meeting, Leigh said, "The amendment...did not fully address the problems present in the student dress code."
According to Leigh, both the current and new version of the dress code allow for what she called "subjective enforcement," which could lead to discrimination against certain body types.
"Two people can wear the same article of clothing, but if one has wider hips or larger breasts, thighs, stomach, or shoulders, that clothing would fall under the tight-fitting restriction allowing teachers and administrators to discriminate against their body type," Leigh said.
The dress codes "unreasonably disrupt" a student's education, she said.
"When teachers enforce the student dress in the classroom, they are taking away from time that could be spent actually teaching, and cause a bigger disruption than the clothing itself," she said. "When teachers and administrators remove students from the classroom for their clothes, they are depriving an individual of their education."
Leigh spoke about the "sexual lens" that administrators and teachers must view their students through.
"Both the current and amended dress code force teachers and administrators to view their teenage charges through a sexual lens, by having teachers and administrators police the student population for dress that might be 'revealing, suggestive, and/or disruptive' to the rest of the students," she said. "This makes students incredibly uncomfortable, because it means teachers and administrators have to look at our chests, or our legs, or our butts, and decide if our clothing in those areas is sexually stimulating, and thus a distraction."
To solve the problem, Leigh suggested further amendments to the dress code, modeled after the guidelines created by the Oregon branch of the National Organization for Women, and similar language adopted by Evanston (Illinois) Township High School.
Leigh said the changes would "improve relations between teachers, administrators and students, and allow students to learn in a less oppressive and more comfortable environment."
Changes include replacing the passage stating “Student clothing must be made of a non-transparent see through material that solidly covers the student body (front, back and sides) from mid-thigh to armpit level and that includes material over the shoulder” with “Student clothing must be made of a non-transparent material that solidly covers the student’s genitals, buttocks, breasts, and nipples.”
Leigh also suggested replacing “Garments considered to be revealing, suggestive and/or disruptive will not be allowed on males or females. This would include extremely tight fitting clothing; clothing that fails to cover the midriff, genitals, buttocks, or chest; sheer/see-through material; clothing that is above mid-thigh; and/or shredded clothing,” with “Clothing that fails to cover the genitals, buttocks, breasts, or nipples.”
She also suggested entirely deleting the passage that would require students to remain in an administrator office until proper clothing is obtained.
"We high schoolers can be trusted to make our own decisions about how we dress," Leigh said. "We are mature enough to know how to behave in a school setting, and to not let our fellow students' manner of dress distract us. There is no dress code outside of school, and we are perfectly capable of ignoring any 'distraction' posed by others there. We do not shed this ability at the schoolhouse gate."
While none of the members of the Board of Education directly responded to Leigh's comments and suggestions, board member Toni Morgan addressed them during her Policy and Development Committee report later on in the meeting.
"If you're interested in policy issues, any policy issues - dress code for example - it's a good idea to come to the meetings and (give) feedback right there, because there is a public comment section to all of the board subcommittees," Morgan said.