U-46 students seeking more equitable, gender-neutral dress code

 
 
Updated 8/25/2017 8:52 AM
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  • Bartlett High School junior Jane Magnani helped rewrite her school's dress code focusing on what students must have covered, rather than what they can or cannot wear.

      Bartlett High School junior Jane Magnani helped rewrite her school's dress code focusing on what students must have covered, rather than what they can or cannot wear. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

Girls not being allowed to wear short shorts, leggings, yoga pants and tank tops or show bare shoulders caused angst among some students at the state's second-largest school district.

It prompted Bartlett High School junior Jane Magnani, 16, of Hanover Park to help rewrite her school's dress code focusing on what students must have covered, rather than what they can or cannot wear.

Now, officials at Elgin Area School District U-46 are joining the conversation about what is appropriate school attire and hope to update dress codes for middle schools and high schools.

At Bartlett High, students, parents and teachers came together to tackle the problem. The school's previous policy detailed what boys and girls could not wear but was more biased against females, Principal Mike Demovsky said.

The new dress code clarifies what students must have covered -- upper thighs, chest, buttocks and midriff area -- regardless of gender.

"We really made it more of a gender-neutral dress code," Demovsky said. "Changing the framework of that conversation, that really seemed to go a long way (toward) improving relationships between students and staff. Every group having their voice valued, that's how you truly make it an effective change. We've had statistically such a significant drop in referrals for dress code (violations) and an overall positive change in the climate of the building."

Last school year, Bartlett High had its highest number of referrals for dress code violations -- roughly 300 in the first seven weeks. Since classes started last week, there have been zero dress code violations, Demovsky said.

Students and parents from several schools have been airing their complaints with the dress code on Facebook, and the conversation is catching fire.

Across U-46 schools, there are many inconsistencies with how the dress code is applied, Magnani told the U-46 school board this week.

"A large number of students face body shaming and unfairness due to the way they choose to dress," she said. "Some schools have overly restrictive dress code interpretations."

Magnani urged schools to rewrite their dress codes by bringing together teams of students and staff members to develop a simple and fair policy for their unique environment. She also called for eliminating gender bias in such policies.

"We need a dress code that allows expression of self while still setting boundaries for what is and isn't acceptable," she said.

Student Angela McManamon decried the "absurd rules" at her middle school, which includes banning girls from showing bare arms.

"What is so sexual about girls' shoulders?" McManamon asked. "These rules are unnecessary. They create stress and provide an unneeded source of humiliation and embarrassment. This teaches children they can't make their own decisions. Overall, students should be able to feel comfortable and safe."

School board member Jeanette Ward said she shared students' frustration, having daughters in middle school herself.

"I think we need to look at this, because if we are going to send kids to school in summertime, they ought to be able to wear tank tops," she said.

U-46 Chief Executive Officer Tony Sanders promised to bring the discussion to his Student Advisory Council.

"That will be a good place to at least start having the conversation and figure out a way to roll it out districtwide," he said.

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