Education Lab

In face of criticism, Clovis Unified adopts gender-neutral dress code

After months of debate, the Clovis Unified school board on Wednesday reluctantly approved a dress code that is gender-neutral.

The new policy removes decades-old restrictions that prevented boys in the district from wearing long hair and earrings, and instead applies a single standard for all students, regardless of gender.

Wednesday’s vote came after the board faced criticism from the American Civil Liberties Union in January for refusing to drop the gender-specific language, despite concerns that the policy violated state laws protecting gender expression.

While trustee Richard Lake was the lone “no” vote, several of the trustees who voted in favor of the recommendations voiced their displeasure with them.

“I have not been convinced that a gender-neutral dress code is the way to go. The fact that we should exclude ‘male’ and ‘female’ from our dress code, to me, is not appropriate,” Lake said.

Trustee Ginny Hovsepian said she was “deeply opposed to following any special interest group’s interpretation of the law.”

But critics say the past policy was discriminatory, especially for LGBT students and students of color who seek cultural exemptions from the dress code.

While the board voted to drop a regulation that banned “exotic” clothing and makeup, the policy still bans “distracting” clothing and makeup, language that did not please some students.

“Those terms are entirely subjective. What may be seen as different or exotic or distracting in Clovis may seem the norm in other areas,” Buchanan High School student Rei Bioco said Wednesday. “It still does not entirely create an environment in Clovis that is welcoming and accepting of all students.”

Other students have also protested the dress code: In February, boys wore dresses to class to defy gender norms they say are perpetuated by the policy.

But trustees say the strict dress code – which also bans beards, camouflage and professional sports logos – is related to the district’s high achievement.

Josh Fulfer, who grew up in the Clovis Unified system and has children in the district, agrees, saying the majority of students are being hurt out of concern for select students.

“You’ve got 5-6 percent that scream  but what about the majority? What are you going to do for them when they feel offended in class when they’re distracted because of what someone’s wearing? What about my kids?” he said.

Clovis Unified parent Erica Ireland, though, commended the board for making the changes and said the policy of the past was dangerous for students.

“Gender is one of those first social categories children become aware of. My son has Thomas the train on the brain – but when he’s not playing with that, he has an interest in My Little Ponies,” she said. “This gender stereotyping needs to stop.”

Superintendent Janet Young said the new policy will be more inclusive and better for all the student body.

“Your voices have been heard and what you have shared matters to us. The reality is that this matter is about complying with the existing law,” she said. “The Clovis Unified School District is a public school district – that means we welcome all children.”

Mackenzie Mays: 559-441-6412, @MackenzieMays