School dress codes should be regularly updated

Late last month, four Lake Placid High School students appeared before their district’s board of education to share concerns about the school’s dress code policy, including how the policy is enforced on female students.

This is a discussion that comes up every few years in school districts across the country. On her first day of school this year, one Georgia teenager, Sophia Trevino, was written up for wearing distressed jeans. She and her classmates came together to protest, comparing the school’s enforcement of its dress code — Trevino was among 15 other girls to be written up for dress code violations on the first day of school — to the district’s apparently lax enforcement of face mask rules. In response, a spokesperson for Trevino’s school released a statement saying that the district’s rules “encourage a focus on learning … not on what students prefer to wear.”

The spokesperson’s statement is a clear example of a mistake school administrators — and adults in general — often make when students share concerns about school dress codes. Whether intentional or not, some adults have a tendency to belittle or oversimplify students’ experiences or perspectives, perpetuating a cycle of condescension that so many of us experienced when we were young ourselves. Yes, adults know better than teens a lot of the time; still, students deserve respect and to be fully heard.

For many students, it’s not necessarily about what they’d like to wear. It’s about how being scrutinized for their appearance — while they’re at school, by people in a place of authority — makes them feel.

Lake Placid sophomore Carly Karpp told the school board that by encouraging them to “cover up,” she feels the dress code sexualizes the skin of young women. Another sophomore, Emily Kostoss, questioned why educators aren’t putting a greater emphasis on teaching students to respect one another regardless of what they’re wearing.

“If the school is really trying to protect me from the ‘wandering of peers’ eyes,’ they would not try to hide my skin, but educate students on how to respect others regardless of what they are wearing or not wearing,” Kostoss said. “If the school was really trying to protect me, they would understand that if they monitor my skin that is already oversexualized … I will still be focused on wandering eyes. Why is my stomach skin so sexualized?”

We imagine speaking out about this took a lot of bravery on the students’ part, and they should be applauded for that.

Rather than dismiss the students’ concerns, the Lake Placid school board chose to listen. The board directed Superintendent Timothy Seymour to create a committee so students, administrators and parents would have a forum to hash out concerns about the high school’s dress code.

We believe the school board made the right choice. Even if nothing changes, students deserve to have a seat at the table, especially when it comes to policies that directly impact their experience at school.

We believe schools should still have some standards for how students dress, but those standards should be fairly enforced and regularly updated. This discussion comes up every few years for a reason. We applaud the Lake Placid school board for taking action.


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