A group giving voice to students in the St. Paul Public Schools is drawing attention to what it sees as the unequal treatment of girls in the enforcement of school dress codes.
Last week, the school board heeded concerns raised by the SPPS Student Engagement and Advancement Board by amending the district’s dress code policy to prohibit principals from targeting a specific gender when setting dress-code rules for their schools.
That is not to say that anything goes.
There still will be restrictions, just not with the explicit references — “bosoms, bottoms and bellies,” in the case of an East Side middle school — that the student group said objectifies girls and can hold them to a different standard.
The policy change marked another victory for a student group that last year pushed successfully for new accountability measures for school resource officers, or cops in the schools.
This year, the 13-member board is composed entirely of girls, but its promotion of dress-code changes reflects not just a collective group opinion, but views expressed by students districtwide in surveys and focus group sessions last fall.
“We’re not saying there should be no restrictions,” Skyler Kuczaboski, a group member, said last week. “We’re saying that girls should be allowed to be comfortable at their schools.”
In a presentation to the school board in December, the student group said that explanations of dress-code violations to girls often focus on their sexuality, which members said can have an alienating effect.
Kuczaboski added that while certain schools require that undergarments not be exposed, she has seen “boys who sag their pants with underwear that outline their butt cheeks, but they don’t get pulled out of class or sent home.”
She also spoke of a 6-year-old girl being told to put a sweater over a dress with spaghetti straps even though it was a hot day.
“The issue was her shoulder, I guess?” Kuczaboski said.
Jackie Turner, the district’s chief operations officer, said principals or their designees still have authority to set standards for cleanliness and neatness.
She cited as permissible a set of rules at Linwood Monroe Arts Plus School that dictates the minimum lengths of shorts, skirts and dresses, and requires the covering of undergarments, as long as it “applies to whoever wears undergarments, regardless of gender,” Turner said.
As for any school using words like “bosoms, bottoms and bellies” in its dress codes, Turner added: “We will work with [them] to modify their language.”