New Wake County dress code aims for gender neutrality

WAKE COUNTY, N.C. (WTVD) -- In an effort to be more gender neutral, the Wake County school board is updating its dress code policy for the first time since the early 2000s.

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Lindsay Mahaffey, a member of the board's policy committee, said the new gender-neutral policy language avoids focusing on punishment and addresses expectations in a way that does not single out female students.

For instance, instead of specifically prohibiting excessively short or tight garments, bare midriff, strapless shirts, and attire that exposes cleavage as laid out in the WCPSS current policy, the new dress code directs students to wear non-see-through clothing that "covers their skin from chest to mid-thigh in front, back, and on the sides."

"Girls will hear things like, oh it's distracting, and that's not what we're here for," said Mahaffey. "We're here to teach children. We're here to keep them in the classroom."

School board members gave initial approval to the new policy on Tuesday at its regular board meeting. If it passes a second reading in May, the new code will go into effect in July for the 2019-2020 school year.

"Would you wear that to your after-school job?" was the question board member Christine Kushner said guided her colleagues through drafting the new policy that aims to set expectations of students rather than list out potential punishments.

Mahaffey said the board used the dress code of Portland, Oregon schools as a template for becoming more gender neutral.

If a student is in violation of the dress code, an administrator of the same gender will be directed to discuss it with them privately, instead of interrupting class time to discipline a student.

"Every teacher, every administrator knows that relationship with your student is the most important thing because if you lose that, it's really hard to get it back," Mahaffey said.

Clothing that depicts profanity, vulgarity, obscenity or violence, or promotes the use or abuse of alcohol, tobacco, or illegal drugs is still prohibited under the new dress code.

The new policy also states students are not to wear or carry clothing, jewelry, book bags, or other personal articles that are likely to create a substantial disruption of the educational process or operations of the school.

Head coverings used to express sincerely held religious beliefs, cultural expressions, or to accommodate medical or disability-related issues are still allowed.
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