Residents criticize school district's new gender-neutral dress code: 'Make everyone wear uniforms'

Paulina Cachero
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The Roanoke County School Board unanimously approved a gender neutral dress code for the upcoming school year. (Credit: Roanoke County Public Schools)
The Roanoke County School Board unanimously approved a gender neutral dress code for the upcoming school year. (Credit: Roanoke County Public Schools)

A Virginia public school district will have a gender-neutral dress code for the upcoming school year in a move that’s being hailed by one school official as “progressive” – but not all residents agree.

For the 2019-2020 school year, all Roanoke County Public School students, regardless of gender, must now wear clothing that “cover[s] areas from one armpit across to the other armpit, down to approximately 3 to 4 inches in length on the upper thighs,” and “tops must have shoulder straps.”

The draft of the new dress code reads, “Roanoke County Public Schools respects students’ rights to express themselves in the way they dress,” adding that students are expected to “respect the school community by dressing appropriately for a K-12 educational environment.”

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Students who do not adhere to the new guidelines will not be allowed to attend class and parents will be called if appropriate clothing is not available or refused by the student.

Roanoke County Public Schools superintendent Ken Nicely tells Yahoo Lifestyle the district is committed to “promoting a school and classroom climate in which all students have a sense of belonging and inclusiveness.”

He adds that “adopting a more gender-neutral dress code is an important part of helping us achieve that goal.”

The impetus to rewrite the school district’s dress code policy arose from old guidelines that appeared to have targeted female students, Roanoke County Director of Administration Rhonda Stegall told The Roanoke Times. The new code was drafted with the help of administrators parents, teachers, central office staff and student leadership.

The previous dress policy contained explicit direction on female articles of clothing including, “undergarments (including bra straps), cleavage or midriffs should not be exposed,” “short/skirt length should be no higher than mid-thigh,” and banning “shirts with spaghetti straps.”

In addition to its non-gender biased language, the new dress code also states that “clothing may not state, imply, or depict hate speech/imagery targeting groups based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, religious affiliation, or any other protected classification.”

The Roanoke County School board approved the new policy unanimously in what board chairman Don Butzer called one of “most progressive, non-gender biased dress codes in the state,” The Roanoke Times reported.

However, some residents were critical of the new policy online, arguing that the Roanoke County Public Schools should just implement uniforms instead.

“Make everyone wear uniforms. Problem solved,” one Facebook user wrote.

“Kids will find a way to ‘personalize’ their attire. They want to bring attention to their bodies. To stand out,” added another.

“So sad parents cant guide their children better so that we wouldn't need dress codes,” one person wrote.

Others online were critical of the school board for not addressing more serious issues the school district is facing.

“Is that we spend time on? More time spend on anti bullying and creative education,” commented one frustrated Facebook user.

Another parent quipped, “Because teachers salaries and job security is less important than what my kid wears.”

Despite the criticism, 59 percent of parents in the school district approved the new dress code, according to a survey of 1,370 parents in the school district, The Roanoke Times reported.

Members of the Roanoke County Public Schools board were not immediately available for comment, a school representative told Yahoo Lifestyle.

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