Victoria Jas explained the new, broadly worded dress code policy to her fellow school board members last week.
From now on, creative expression will be encouraged, said Jas, who is chair of the Woodstock Union High School-Middle School board policy committee. She said there will be no more discrimination when it comes to the dress code and “no more of this argument that girls dress one way and they get what they deserve because they dress one way.”
The new dress code policy is still a draft. It’s an attempt to answer complaints about how it was interpreted and enforced at the middle school. The same policy would apply to both high school and middle school students.
“It is not a student dress code, it is a community dress code,” Jas said.
The draft of the new policy says in part, “We recognized that a person’s mode of dress and grooming are often manifestation of personal style and preference.”
Anyone who violates the policy could be subject to disciplinary action, the policy says.
“I don’t know how they’re violating the policy because it’s so broad and subject to interpretation,” board member Paige Hiller said.
The policy committee creates the policy. How the policy is enforced and interpreted is left to school administration. The interpretation of the policy is where board member Jim Haff said the problem is.
“It seems that the policy is OK, the procedure is where the problem is occurring,” Haff said.
At the end of last school year seventh- and eighth-grade students and their parents attended a discussion at the middle school and protested against how the dress code was enforced, with measurements for straps and shorts. They said it targeted girls.
The policy the school board committee drafted was left broad on purpose.
“We don’t want to micromanage administrators,” said Jas, who acknowledged that not getting into specifics in the board’s policy can leave school administration to interpret the policy.
“It is a little bit of leap of faith on our part, but we felt very strongly that this needed to be positive,” Jas said.
The policy committee worked over the summer, a time when the school board’s other policy committees usually break. They watched videos and looked at other schools’ dress code policies, especially Brattleboro Union High School’s policy, which was updated recently after a slew of concerns that the old dress code discriminated against genders.
Jas said the new policy will focus on what to wear for success.
“What to wear if you’re out there and you’re a go-getter,” she said. As opposed to “don’t do this, don’t do that.”
The dress code is to be reviewed annually.
This article first appeared in the September 1, 2016 edition of the Vermont Standard.