Several students at a DeKalb County high school want the district to rewrite its dress code policy, arguing that it unfairly targets girls and students of color.
Driving the news: At a Board of Education meeting Monday, students from Lakeside High School shared their own stories, as well as incidents of their peers who were “dress-coded” by teachers and administrators.
By the numbers: According to figures shared by sophomore Hannah Choi, while students of color make up about 70% of Lakeside’s population, they represent 80% of pupils disciplined.
The female student population is less than 50%, but makes up about 70% of students who face reprimands for violating the code, Choi said.
State of play: DeKalb’s dress code, located within its Student Code of Conduct, bans clothing with rips or tears, requires all shirts to have sleeves and that clothing length has to meet the mid-thigh or lower, among other things. Clothing also has to cover undergarments, even when a student moves.
Punishments for dress code violations can range from a verbal rebuke and in-school suspension on a first offense to additional ISS for subsequent offenses.
What they’re saying: Another Lakeside sophomore, Anna Katz, told board members when she was in third grade, she was called out for the first time for her outfit — Nike shorts and a t-shirt. She said an administrator pulled her aside and “asked me to put my hands at my side” to measure how long her shorts were.
“It was humiliating,” she said. “From then on, I would constantly pull my shorts down in an attempt to meet the fingertip rule that was being enforced. I was in fear of being called out.”
Lakeside junior Marques Moreland told board members that dress codes are based on “the social aesthetic of middle-class America.”
He said one Black female student told him she was offended that she would be targeted for her small rips in her jeans and tighter-fitting shirts.
“The way clothing fits on female students of color may be different than how it would be on a white female student(s),” the student said.
The other side: DeKalb schools spokesperson Donald Porter said the district’s dress code is reviewed annually and includes feedback to “improve its application, effectiveness, and fairness.”
The next opportunity for students, parents and the community to provide feedback will be in the spring. He also said interim Superintendent Dr. Vasanne Tinsley has met with Lakeside and other students who have given their thoughts about the dress code and other issues.
“The student dress code is to be applied to all students, regardless of gender or race, and is intended to promote safe and appropriate learning environments,” he said.
Yes, but: Adrienne Dixson, executive director for the Education and Civil Rights Initiative at the University of Kentucky, told Axios that many dress code policies place the burden on girls to control their bodies.
“There’s a fixation on what girls wear (and that’s) tied to what we believe about sexuality, controlling girls’ sexuality, and that they’re responsible for the responses of boys,” she said.
Zoom out: According to a federal Government Accountability Office report, about 69% of items banned by school districts are worn by boys while more than 90% are apparel donned by girls.
It also found that schools that enforce strict dress codes are predominantly Black or Hispanic and are more likely to remove students from class for violations.
The big picture: In recent years, students across Georgia have challenged dress codes. In September 2022, several DeKalb middle school students also criticized the district’s dress code.
A Cobb County middle school student in 2021 started a petition to change that district’s rules about what pupils can and can’t wear.
In Effingham County, a federal civil rights lawsuit has been filed against the district, alleging that its dress code is racially discriminatory.
What we’re watching: Katz said the students don’t want an end to the dress code, but one “that aligns with the DeKalb County School System core beliefs providing a safe instructional environment, embracing our district’s diversity and cultivating a community of learners in which all individuals are valued and respected.”
The students shared with board members a proposal of how the dress code can be modified.