Daily WTF: The Woodford County Dress Code

Stephanie Dunn in her "inappropriate" school outfit

Stephanie Dunn in her “inappropriate” school outfit

Schools in Kentucky recently started back up, and almost immediately there was a story about the dress code; specifically, about girls’ appropriate dress codes. The story started at Woodford County High School in central Kentucky when Stacie Dunn was called in because of her daughter’s inappropriate outfit. The girls’ crime? Showing her collarbone. I’m not even kidding.

Apparently, for the past ten years Woodford County High School has had a dress code in place that prohibits girls’ collarbones and knees from being shown. If girls disregard that dress code, they will be pulled out of class and set home. Supposedly, this is to keep them from being a distraction and to prevent boys from harassing them.

School dress codes are often a cause for contention, especially for girls. While boys are usually allowed to wear shorts and tank tops with impunity, girls are policed for having “booty shorts” and showing their bra straps, resulting in them losing valuable education time as they’re removed from classes. The culpability is usually placed on the girls, who are blamed for revealing too much, wearing inappropriate outfits, and “not dressing like a lady.”

School dress codes are ridiculous, especially when they’re enforced by depriving girls their education. “But what’s to stop girls from just walking around in their underwear?” some might cry. Everything. Most girls would not want to walk around in their underwear, and it’s ridiculous to assume they would. People will comment on your period stains or the tops and bottoms not matching or you having body hair. You’ll worry about rolls and stretch marks and people seeing your pad or tampon. Girls do not want to go to school in their underwear. Please stop thinking this is a valid concern.

School dress codes should be handled the way work dress codes are: as guidelines, not measured rules. At work, I’m given certain guidelines: no excessive cleavage, no underwear or genitals shown, no jeans except on Fridays, no graphic tees, and no open-toed shoes. If I violate that dress code, I will not be fired or removed from work or publically humiliated. I will receive an email from HR reminding me of the dress code. If I continue to disregard the dress code, I will be reminded of the penalties for doing so. If I won’t respond to that, I’ll face the penalties. Why aren’t high school girls treated that way? Why is it more important to deny them their education and to punish them for others’ bad behavior? Why do they have to live in fear that they’ll be tagged and hauled off to the office? It’s ridiculous, discriminatory, and shaming.

One student, Maggie Sunseri, has been fighting this dress code for months and has even created a student-led committee and proposed a new dress code, to which the principal and board claim to be receptive. I hope they are, and I hope educational administrators start realizing what a huge waste of time policing students’ clothes is. If I can roll into class in my pajama pants and slippers in college, kids should be able to bare their collarbones, shoulders, and thighs in high school. Because what’s really important here? Keeping kids covered or educating them?

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