School Dress Codes: When Do They Go Too Far?


– All right, what’s the
one thing that this shirt, this cap, this do-rag, even these pants, what do they all have in common? They’re all clothes that
schools have banned. Take a look at this scene. Does it seem familiar to you? (fast-paced techno music) – [Principal] Your shirt’s inappropriate. Cover your shoulders Take off your cap, and no jeans with rips. – If you’re in high
school or middle school, dress codes are probably something that you’re really familiar with. Most dress codes require
students to dress modestly, so they don’t distract or
interfere with learning. I remember when I was in middle school, we had to wear uniforms, but you weren’t allowed to have long hair. And I had braids, so
the first day of school, they literally were like, “Yo,
cut your hair, or get out.” And in recent years, this old
school dress code thinking has gotten heat from opponents
who say these policies are sexist and racist, because
they typically target women and people of color by banning
the things they might wear, like short skirts, thin tank tops, or dreadlocks and braids. Like this little boy, who
was banned from school, because of his dreads. According to this analysis, from Pudding, the average dress code bans 32 items with numbers reaching as high as 97. It’s becoming such a problem, that students are using
social media to expose this. And it’s been getting a
lot of media attention, like this viral video from a
Texas school that was meant to teach students the dress
code, but missed the mark. (“Bad Girls” By M.I.A.) So the big question is, how should schools decide on dress codes? This is where our friends
from Etiwanda High School in Southern California come in. So let’s talk to Samantha,
Sesha, David, and Zhenwei. These students are part of a national youth journalism program called PBS NewsHour
Student Reporting Labs. They researched, wrote, and
helped produce this episode of Above the Noise. – We asked students from other
schools around the nation about how they feel
about their dress codes. – I think that the dress
code is extremely biased and it favors the guys, obviously, because they can get away with more. – When girls getting pulled out of class, or a boy is getting pulled out of class, so that they can go home or fix their clothes, it
disrupts their education. – Personally, I’m not in
support of dress code, because I don’t like the
fact that they take away your expressions with
how you present yourself. – Some students are so upset
by their dress code policies, they’re taking matters
into their own hands and trying to get their
dress code changed. Like the students from
Lincoln Middle School, in Alameda, California. They worked with their
teacher to demand change to the school’s dress
code policy back in 2016. I think that they’re the perfect issue to get students involved in, because it’s something so critical, just almost like homework policy to hear students’ voices in. So the more student input on dress codes, I think, the better. – I was wearing just ripped jeans that maybe had two holes in them, both on the knees,
nowhere higher than that, and just a plain
high-collared shirt like this. I was getting pulled out of class, and I think that’s just not necessary. It was disrupting my day at school and made me feel really bad about myself. – Boys and girls were
wearing ripped jeans. And girls were way more targeted
and stopped by teachers. I was involved in school leadership, and we were listening to students, and when this came up repeatedly, we knew that there was a problem. – I ended up writing a couple of speeches to present to the faculty
here, and to the school board. – We really wanted to try
to create an atmosphere that was more welcoming, where kids felt like
they could be themselves. And so, when we told the district that, they really started to listen. It ended up being myself as a teacher, and four middle school students from Lincoln Middle School, where I teach, who got to sit down with administrators from all over our school district to come together and discuss how are we going to make
these necessary changes? Our goal is for students to be in class, and being able to focus on learning. Not so much focused on
what they look like, or what other people are
thinking they look like, or are they going to get in trouble for what they’re wearing? – Okay, so we’ve heard loud and clear from many students, that they think their school’s dress
code is just too strict. But believe it or not,
some students do think a more strict dress code helps
students focus on learning. – Dress code’s very important
to have at a school, because the students represent the school, the students and staff. And the students should represent
the school appropriately, and they shouldn’t really take school as a “let me show off my body.” – It’s kind of important
to a certain extent, because there are a lot of people who walk around with pajama pants. And I feel like that’s too casual. I think there’s a fine
line between being casual and being really dressed up, though. – Many schools and administrators
see strict dress codes as a way to instill discipline and prepare students for
the professional world. Lots of jobs require employees to dress according to a set
of professional standards. Like, you don’t see many cropped tops and jorts in a typical office. (wolf whistle) And there are lots of jobs that even require uniforms,
so the argument goes. By having a dress code in schools, students are more disciplined and better prepared for
life in the workforce. – [Zhenwei] We talked to Azande Aikens, assistant principal of discipline
at Etiwanda High School. He thinks the dress code
minimizes distractions and prepares students for
college and career readiness. – I think dress code benefits
the student body in general, in a number of different ways. One, it just helps sets guidelines, or just helps students
understand some of the things that they should and
should not be wearing. It also provides a safe
learning environment. When I say that, really, I’m focusing on things that are more offensive. In safety, for example, wearing a ring that’s very heavy or that
you could injure someone, things like that. I think there will always be some type of dress code in place. Student voice is very powerful. I like hearing from the students,
especially on this topic. Making adjustments as things
change, and time changes, I think that’s something that, definitely, that districts and schools will look at. – So Zhenwei, for you, what do you think are the big takeaways from this? – It seems the conversation
about dress code is never going to end. But I think schools
should really be listening to the youth and their
opinions on dress code, because we’re impacted
the most by this system. Right, Myles? – Right. It’s a tricky situation. How do you balance school
rules with student rights? We understand that rules are necessary, but that doesn’t mean that they have to be sexist and racist. So now we want to hear from you. Consider your personal
experiences with dress codes. What do you think is the best way for a school to decide on a dress code? Let us know in the comments below. Special thanks to Etiwanda High School, and journalists Zhenwei,
Sesha, David, and Samantha for providing ideas and helping us on the creation of this video. And thanks to our partners at PBS SoCal. And if you liked this
video, check out this one from students from Northview High School. And stay tuned for more episodes
like this one, coming up. And for all you teachers out there, your students can join the
discussion on KQED Learn. And as always, I’m your host Myles Bess. Remember, stay Above the Noise. Like, subscribe, you know
the routine at this point. Till next time. Bye. See you later. Peace out. (laughs)

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