The Clovis Unified school board will revisit its controversial dress code after concerns that the strict policy breaks state law protecting gender expression.
At a meeting on Wednesday night, trustee Ginny Hovsepian – who voted against recommendations last month to change the dress code – requested that the board consider a policy “with legally appropriate exemptions” as soon as possible.
Hovsepian suggested a policy that would no longer pull boys out of class for wearing long hair or earrings.
In a surprising 4-3 vote last month, trustees refused to approve recommendations from school administrators and the American Civil Liberties Union to create a single dress code standard regardless of gender.
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The policy breaks state law protecting gender expression, but at the January meeting, trustees said they were ready for a legal fight to keep the dress code in place. At that meeting, Hovsepian said “just because it’s a law doesn’t mean we need to put up with it” and added it was un-American to shy away from the fight.
“We don’t want students to lose regular class time if they are not in dress code. Right now, they end up being suspended if they don’t comply. I hate the idea of that,” she said Wednesday. “We want to work something else out, but I don’t know what that will look like. I simply asked them to reconsider what the discipline and enforcement is regarding those issues.”
Proponents of the dress code say there’s a corresponding link between good grooming standards and the district’s high achievement; critics say it’s discriminatory and outdated.
ACLU attorney Abre’ Conner attended Wednesday’s meeting and was cautiously optimistic. The board had previously assured the ACLU that the dress code would be made gender-neutral, but that all changed with last month’s vote.
“It was interesting to hear that these board members are thinking about looking at the dress code again. We think that it’s the right thing to do – to reconsider upholding a discriminatory dress code and instead uphold the law,” Conner said. “It seems as if some of the school board members realized that their decision was not the right one in the first place.”
Since the vote, Clovis Unified students have protested, with some boys wearing dresses to class to defy gender roles.
Buchanan High School student Rei Bioco started an online petition for a gender-neutral dress code that’s garnered about 3,500 signatures so far, and said the policy is especially harmful for LGBT students.
“The lack of that gender-neutral language can be discouraging to students who don’t necessarily feel that they fit with the gender that they were assigned at birth. That can keep people in the closet. That’s dangerous,” she said. “And clothes are just fabric. What makes it male or female? There’s no reason that a piece of fabric should keep kids from learning.”
There is no scheduled date yet for when the board will revisit the policy.