California High School Students Take on ‘Sexist’ Dress Code Policy

Eight students at schools in Burbank, Calif., are taking their civics classes to new levels and challenging what they’ve dubbed a sexist school dress code policy, and are seeking to have the policy amended so that it does not disproportionately punish girls for clothing choices that make them more comfortable in sweltering conditions.

During a public comment period of a school board meeting last week, students from the city’s two high schools, Burroughs and Burbank High, related their stories of how the dress code has affected them, reports the Los Angeles Times. One student, Virginia Begakis, said she was yanked from her honors class on a 110-degree day because she wore straps too thin to meet the school’s dress code.

“School is telling us female bodies are distracting, and it’s wrong,” Begakis said. She added that removing a student from class for the clothing they are wearing is often more distracting than the actual clothing, according to the Times.

Clothing items deemed inappropriate under the dress code include but are not limited to torn clothing, oversize pants (worn below the natural waistline), short shorts and skirts, see-through tops, exposed undergarments, spaghetti-strap clothing, tank-top undershirts, ribbed tank tops (the code also states that clothing must cover the back and abdomen), pajamas, slippers, scarves, beanies, sweatshirt hoods, baseball-type hats/caps, and sweatbands (except during athletic practices or games).

Another student, Hanna Mikaelian, showed board members a picture of the outfit that got her in trouble under the school dress code. Her transgression was that her bra strap was visible under a thin cardigan.

The dress code policy also reads, “Clothing and accessories should not display any material, which is obscene, promotes drugs, tobacco, alcohol or criminal behavior, is sexually suggestive, or which is libelous or slanderous.” Although, of course, “sexually suggestive” is sometimes in the eye of the beholder.

Burroughs High School principal Deborah Madrigal didn’t speak outright about the alleged sexism in the school dress code but told the Times she’s happy to see students “demonstrating and participating in democracy and learning how to get something done” in terms of their plan to survey students, parents, and teachers about how best to change the policy.”

She also said that boys often violate the dress code by wearing shirts that depict naked women, while the girls typically have trouble finding clothes that are comfortable and fit the code.