Henrico student launches petition to end dress code

A high school student started a petition to abolish the dress code in public schools in Henrico County, and it had collected over 1,150 signatures as of October 4.

Sydney Smith, an elder at Glen Allen High School, said the dress code objective women and target people of color. The 17-year-old raised her concerns to the Henrico School Board at its September 23 meeting.

Dress codes teach women from an early age that their bodies should be hidden and that they should not feel comfortable in the clothes they choose to express themselves in. Is this really a message that we want to send to our generation that is trying to create change? ” Smith asked the board members. “Male teachers shouldn’t be able to comment on student bodies in any capacity. It’s inappropriate, and sometimes it’s predatory.

Smith conducted a voluntary survey at his school, and responses from more than 250 students who participated showed that female students were three times more likely to have a dress code. Of the men who wore a dress code, 44% were black, 38% were minorities and 18% were white, according to Smith.

It is impossible to know if Smith’s anecdotal investigation reflects actual dress code trends across the school district, as HCPS does not aggregate data on dress code violations by gender or ethnicity, and the state’s education department also does not collect data on dress code violations.

“Sometimes you see black people being given a dress code to wear a bandana because it’s associated with gang affiliation, compared to whites where they don’t even blink,” Smith said in an interview with the Citizen.

William Noel, director of disciplinary review for the HCPS, said any dress code language that was subjective, or specific to gender or ethnicity was removed from the code two years ago.

“The dress code, for which I’m responsible, certainly doesn’t discriminate based on your gender or even your height,” Noel said. “If this is a situation where you have a Caucasian student and an African American student wearing the same or the same style of clothing, and the African American student is selected, then we have to look to other things that can happen. to.”

Henriko student Kali Bickford said “It has always been a running joke among us Glen Allen daughters” who will be the first to be sent to the office “when we get to school.”

According to Smith, it often happens that a white girl and a black girl wear similar outfits, and the black girl is given a dress code while the white student is complimented by the teachers.

“At Glen Allen, our teachers are predominantly white,” Smith said. “Whites will always have an implicit bias whether they like to believe it or not, so that could be the case too.”

In the HCPS school division, 80% of full-time teachers are white, according to 2019 school data, and 16% are black. Meanwhile, the majority of HCPS students are 36% black of the population, followed by 35% white students, according to 2020 data from the state’s education department.

Ideally, Smith wants to eliminate the dress code.


“When we go to college, our bodies are more developed and there’s no dress code when you go to class, and they learn perfectly well,” Smith said. “So why do we sexualize minors? ”

The decision to get rid of the dress code is in the hands of the school board.

“As the manager of this office, I probably wouldn’t be in favor of getting rid of it,” Noel said. “If there are things that need to be changed, I’m definitely in favor of that, but I wouldn’t want any sort of free reign as you might have students coming in with offensive messages on clothes or racist messages on them. clothing or drug and alcohol promotion. And we don’t want that.

The HCPS dress code prohibits hats, clothing that reveals underwear, clothing that is transparent, reveals the stomach (when sitting or standing), or looks like underwear.

Director of the disciplinary examination of the schools Henrico William Noel

Students across the county responded to Smith’s petition with their own personal experiences.

“I was wearing the exact same shirt as a friend of mine who has smaller (breasts) and was given a dress code from the same teacher who complimented her outfit,” one student wrote.

“I was walking with my friend who is a (person of color) and she was immediately given a dress code for wearing a crop top,” wrote one student. “I was wearing one too and the teacher didn’t tell me.”

“They dressed me in shorts and not a white girl wearing booty shorts,” another student wrote.

Noel said the school division is actively reviewing the dress code to make sure it’s fair for everyone. Each year, Noel seeks feedback from administrators and the Henrico community on any changes that may be required in dress code.

“I think where we are now, we are in a pretty solid place because I look at it and I don’t see anything that is ethnic or [gender-related] biased against anyone, ”Noel said.

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Anna Bryson is the educational reporter for Henrico Citizen and a member of the Report for America corps. Make a tax deductible donation to support his work, and RFA will match him dollar for dollar.


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