correction: An earlier version of this story said that black girls are twice as likely as all other students to get suspended in schools across the country. They are five times as likely as white girls to get suspended in schools across the country.
Spring may finally be here! Time for schools to start freaking out over bare shoulders and shorts in classrooms.
We’ve already kicked off the dress code outrage season this month with the girl in Florida who went braless under a loose, gray long-sleeve shirt one day because the straps hurt her sunburn. School officials — get ready for this — made her tape over her nipples with adhesive bandages.
Girls responded with a silent bra-cott.
There’s so much wrong here. We already know that girls get banned from graduation, yearbook photos, sent home and suspended because some adults can’t deal with the glimpses of parts of their bodies.
But it gets even worse when you talk to kids, who say dress code enforcement is all over the place.
Some girls show up in short-shorts, and no biggie. Others get sent home for showing just as much leg. Turns out it’s not random.
“It’s my black friends who get dress-coded way more than my white friends,” said Fatimah Fair, a senior at School Without Walls in Washington. “I see some of my white friends wear stuff that even I think is inappropriate, and they get away with it.”
We know from a report last year by the National Women’s Law Center that black girls are five times as likely as white girls to get suspended in schools across the country.
And a good portion of that may have to do with dress code violations.
The law center tackled that part in a new report they released this week, which looks at D.C. public schools to find out who gets dress-coded.
“Students report that Black girls, and especially curvier students, are disproportionately targeted,” according to the report “Dress Coded: Black Girls, Bodies and Bias in D.C. Schools.”
“These punishments interrupt girls’ educations while sending dangerous messages to the school community: how a girl looks is more important than what she thinks, and girls are ultimately responsible for the misbehavior of boys.”
I talked to girls from a few D.C. schools involved in the report who said they rarely see the boys with sagging pants and underwear on display targeted for their violations.
“I’ve seen boys with outfits that violate everything in the dress code. Sagging pants and see-through shirts,” said Jillian Towson, a 17-year-old senior at Duke Ellington High School of the Arts in Northwest Washington. “And nothing happens to them.”
The report analyzed dress codes that are publicly available for D.C. high schools and found these guidelines:
●65 percent of the schools regulate the length of skirts.
●58 percent prohibit tank tops.
●42 percent ban tights and/or leggings.
●45 percent require students to wear belts (and many specify the belts must be black).
And 74 percent of the dress codes authorize disciplinary action that can lead to missed class or school, according to the report.
That’s a huge problem.
We reported last year that D.C. schools do this thing they call “send homes,” where students don’t get formal suspensions — letting the school district again fudge the numbers and claim lower suspension rates — because school district policy forbids straight-up suspension for dress code violations.
But the end result is the same. Kids miss class. And in this case, it’s mostly girls — black girls — who suffer.
Some of that’s easy to see in dress codes that have cultural biases, with schools banning head wraps, nonreligious scarves and do-rags that are staples in some African American wardrobes. At least one girl I talked to said she got held up, late for class over and over again, as security guards searched the hair she had tied up in a wrap.
But other girls saw different factors in the way dress codes were enforced.
“I mostly notice a discrepancy when it comes to body shape, I think, that’s most noticeable to me,” said Fatimah, the School Without Walls senior. “I’m petite; I could be wearing the exact same thing as a friend of mine who is curvier or thicker, and she’ll get dress-coded and I won’t.”
A school official in Virginia was recently telling me this was so obvious in his school system that three girls — all good friends and all different shapes, sizes and colors — wore the same banned outfit to school one day to make their point. And sure enough, the curvier and darker-skinned girls were singled out for a violation; the thin, white girl was not.
They decided not to be named in the story, but their point was taken by school officials who see the difficulty in enforcement.
The biggest question is, of course, why?
Who suffers when a girl’s collarbone is showing? What harm comes to a classroom when a tween wears leggings?
When Samaria Short, 13, violated John Philip Sousa Middle School’s dress code, her punishment was losing class time.
It happened when everyone in her home was sick, and no one had done the laundry. Her khaki uniform pants weren’t clean, so she wore jeans.
Even though she studied for a test that day and was ready for class, she got yanked out of the classroom.
“I had on my uniform shirt, but I didn’t have on my school pants,” she said. “So they made me go into a room and try on all these extra pants they had. I couldn’t fit in any of them; some of them were too big, some were too small. They were going to send me to go home and change.”
But her mom goes to work at 4 a.m. at Chick-fil-A, and wasn’t going to be home until noon.
So Samaria was placed in ISS — In-School Suspension — and missed her science and social studies classes that morning.
All the girls I talked to said the very early messages hammered into them about dress codes teach them to be self-conscious and ashamed of their bodies.
“Throughout middle school, I wasn’t allowed to wear leggings. And it made me wonder about my body from a very young age,” said Nasirah Fair, 17, a senior at Woodrow Wilson High School in Northwest Washington. “Why can’t I wear leggings? They make me comfortable.”
And she’ll never forget one of her first days of high school, when there was an assembly and a PowerPoint presentation that said girls are expected to wear bras.
“I think the girls all wore tank tops without bras the next day,” Nasirah said. “All of this is to what end? To protect your precious little boy from being distracted? We’re promoting this idea boys’ education is more important than ours.”
The girls I asked all said the boys couldn’t care less about the way they dress.
“They’ve got other things to distract them,” one of the girls said.
School officials? Maybe it’s the administrators who need to stop staring.
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