Why dress codes are a violation of Title IX
Title IX is a provision of the U.S. Education Amendments of 1972, intended to prevent discrimination based on sex in any education program or activity that receives federal funding — including public schools. Although it has been effective at mitigating unfairness in schools, violations of Title IX continue today.
For example, I believe dress codes, which are protested by high school students nationwide, are violations of Title IX because they disproportionately impact the education of girls.
This issue has popped up locally. In recent months, students at Riverdale High School have assembled and protested the dress code at their school due to its inherent sexism. One of the major proponents of the movement against the RHS dress code is Sarah Gordon, a senior at the school.
In a July 2015 article in the Huffington Post, Gordon refutes arguments that dress codes are not a violation of Title IX, which prohibits exclusion from educational opportunities because of sex. Dress codes affect girls more than boys, she writes, which makes it clear that removing a student from the classroom because of their attire does violate Title IX.
Gordon is not alone in her perspective.
“Dress code violators could argue that they are being targeted precisely because of their sex. Rules about short shorts or spaghetti-strap tank tops are aimed directly at women’s attire,” said Jessica Valenti, a writer for The Guardian in New York, in a 2013 article.
Despite community interest in creating a more forgiving dress code, the Riverdale School Board has drafted a harsher dress code. This year’s policy prohibits any clothing that reveals skin from shoulders down to mid-thigh; dirty clothing or clothing in disrepair is also not allowed. Consequences for multiple violations of the dress code quickly ramp up to in-school or out-of-school suspensions.
In addition to becoming more stringent, the dress code now provides the school board’s reasoning behind the provisions. Last year’s policy did not outline the rationale behind the dress code, while this year’s seems to say the intent is to prevent distractions in the school environment.
On the district’s website, a July 2015 document describing the updates to the dress code states that “dress and grooming affect the attitude of the students in their work and study habits.” I take that to mean dressing in certain ways will negatively affect a student’s ability to concentrate.
In other words, violations of the dress code are distractions to other students, and violators will be removed from classrooms.
The rules include that students cannot wear see-through fabrics, cutout sleeves, halter tops, strapless tops and off-the-shoulder tops. Some of the rules are positive in intent and prohibit messages on clothing, accessories and personal items, including vulgar language, depictions of weaponry or drugs, and degradation of other races, genders, sexual orientations or religious affiliations.
A post on the district’s website states, “Our dress code is not based on gender — it is based on equal standards. The dress code is not designed for shaming, instead it is a collective illustration of community norms.”
However, this ignores the possibility of the community norms being inherently sexist, and the inequity still seems clear to me. To investigate the unfairness of the dress code, I conducted a survey among students at my school, asking three questions:
n What is your gender?
n Have you been dress-coded at RHS?
n How many times have you been dress-coded?
Of the male respondents, 23 percent had been dress-coded, while 64 percent of the female respondents had been dress-coded. Of the boys who had been dress-coded, only one had been dress-coded more than once, while nearly 90 percent of the girls who had been dress-coded were dress-coded more than once.
The information suggests the dress code affects girls more than boys, and if that is the case, it is my opinion that the use of suspension as punishment would be a violation of Title IX.
The Riverdale School Board should reconsider its dress code, revising it to be more liberal with its policing and punishment.
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