Students at Fresno Unified may no longer face suspension or expulsion for dress code violations, according to a draft of a new policy released by Superintendent Bob Nelson.
The proposal would also remove all specific bans on student dress, from flip-flops to body piercings, instead replacing the list of rules with a paragraph-long statement on “appropriate dress and appearance.”
“The Board expects students to give proper attention to personal cleanliness and to wear clothes that are suitable for the school activities in which they participate,” the draft reads. “Students' clothing must not present a health or safety hazard or interfere with the educational process.”
School sites may develop a more restrictive dress code on top of the district’s minimum policy, such as banning specific gang-related apparel, but it must be justified by safety concerns, according to the proposal. A school would need to get board approval for any additional dress policies.
Nelson announced a review of the dress code in March, after outcry over students facing discipline for “distracting” hairstyles. He said at the time that he felt the existing dress code was not culturally sensitive.
The new policy is supposed to establish a baseline for student health and safety, Nelson said, while giving school sites the flexibility to respond to changing trends that may pose a safety risk.
“The city is not unanimous in terms of what it wants to see of its kids," he said. "But what we don't want to do is criminalize dress."
Abre’ Conner of the ACLU of Northern California said the flexibility may lead to individual schools implementing policies that are not in line with the district's goals, or interpreting the rules differently.
“We hope the district continues to recognize that giving school sites discretion is actually what led to problems in the first place,” she said.
However, she said the organization applauds Fresno Unified for moving to remove the term “distracting” from it dress code, as it had been used to target students from protected groups.
Conner said implementing any new dress code at the district should go hand-in-hand with cultural sensitivity and bias training for staff.
The school board will discuss the new policy on June 13, at which time the public can offer input as well.