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Finally, a School District With a Gender-Neutral Dress Code

Jenn is perhaps best known as the author of the popular parenting blog Breed ‘Em and Weep (2005-2012). She’s written for many magazines, newspapers and websites, including Brain, Child Magazine, Literary Mama, and The Boston Globe. Jenn’...

Student activists fought sexist dress codes — & won

Now we're talking.

One California school district, San José Unified, has finally ditched its antiquated, sexist dress code in favor of a new gender-bias-free code promoted by student activists, which means parents will probably start moving to San Jose in droves.

We cover a lot (and we mean a lot) of dress code stories. And they can be truly awful. Plus, we have yet to cover one dress code "violation" that was committed by a male student.

More: Sixth Grader Fights Back Against School's Misogynistic Dress Code

It seems like the majority of dress codes at U.S. schools smack of nasty, old-school misogyny. And whether it's showing "too much leg" or "distracting" classmates with your collarbone or leaning over to pick up your backpack and accidentally showing a sliver of midriff, it's only girls who are committing these "offenses." We saw the pattern here, and so did San José Unified. And now you'll find us rising to our feet in a proud slow-clap of approval.

The director of student services at San José Unified, Dane Caldwell-Holden, spoke with The Mercury News about the recent shift in policy.

“I started thinking about the dress code and who it was targeting and why,” Caldwell-Holden said. “We were working on keeping kids in the classroom and lowering the suspension rate, and yet we were still kicking kids out of class for dress code... It was contradictory.”

Sanity in 2017 is in such short supply, we had to read that three times to make sure Caldwell-Holden was for real. (He is.)

More: Mom Invites Principal to Go Shopping for Her Daughter to Meet Antiquated School Dress Code

Madeline Armacost, a former student of a San José Unified school (Pioneer High), was one of the catalysts for change at the school. When her supremely normal shorts were called out for being "too distracting" back in 2015, Armacost was forced to change into loose, long shorts — and spent the day in tears, feeling deeply ashamed.

After that day, Armacost decided she wasn't going to put up with the misogynistic treatment any longer. With the help of her mom, she fought back on behalf of all female students, writing a powerful Facebook post that outed the school's dress code for what it was: an unnecessary edict that “unfairly targeted and publicly humiliated girls.”

Armacost said, “To be honest, the entire process of pulling girls out of class for their ‘inappropriate’ clothing was more distracting than the clothes themselves... [m]issing class time over a pair of shorts (that I found on the racks in the mall, and that everyone my age wears without issue) because an anonymous administrator decided they were too sexual made me feel very uneasy.”

Armacost summed up the issue beautifully: “No girl should have to feel ashamed of her body just because adults are projecting their own ideas of sexuality onto them, especially in an educational setting." Preach.

Now 19 and a Foothill College student in Los Altos Hills, California, Armacost is feeling "ecstatic" about the change in dress code at her high school. We too are pretty ecstatic — and grateful that the president of the San José Unified school board, Pamela Foley, took Armacost's experiences seriously.

“I was so proud of her for having the courage to address us and really challenge us on a dress code that was biased against women,” Foley said.

Take that in: A school rep is thanking a student for calling the district out on its outdated standards. That is progress, friends, and we're hoping to see more of it in schools nationwide.

The school district stated before the 2017 school year, “San José Unified amended our student dress code to remove gender-specific language and ensure that enforcement creates a minimal disruption in the educational day. We’re proud of our students for stepping up to advocate for these important changes and helping to keep San José Unified the most innovative school district in the nation.”

We're not going to argue with that; this school district clearly gets it.

So what is the new dress code?

It merely states that all clothing, irrelevant of the wearer's sex or gender identity, must cover chest, torso, and undergarments. Period.

And no student will be publicly shamed: "Any school dress code enforcement actions should minimize the potential loss of educational time. Administration and enforcement of the dress code will be gender neutral and consistent,” says a release put out by San José Unified.

Here's something else we're loving about the San José Unified: all-gender restrooms are in the process of being installed in every school in the district. Yes, this is something that ideally should have happened 15 years ago, but compared to the majority of the country, San José is impressive as hell. Let's hope all the other schools catch up. Like, yesterday.

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