By Alyssa Schnugg
A handful of parents and one high school student spoke before the Oxford School District Board of Trustees Monday in regard to the district’s dress code that was heavily enforced at the start of the school year.
Superintendent Bradley Roberson defended the current policy, but admitted during the meeting that the district failed on the enforcement of the policy.
“Our families were caught off guard at the start of this year due to our lack of enforcement in the previous two school years,” he said. “The bottom line is, we had a policy we weren’t enforcing as we should have and the families were upset and angry when we did. We also had growing pains at the start of the year in the process of enforcement. From parent feedback, we quickly learned that enforcement needed to be treated more carefully.”
Roberson said administrators are traditionally used to enforcing a school policy quickly and immediately to correct the issue.
“Such enforcement of the dress code clearly made some of our students feel uncomfortable, which was not the intent of our administrators or teachers,” he said. “Thanks to parents’ feedback, we feel confident in our enforcement process moving forward.”
He thanked parents for their patience and feedback and apologized for any undue stress the dress code enforcement caused students and their families at the start of the year.
The dress code was approved by the district in 2020, but due to the pandemic, the school district did not enforce the policy. When school started on Aug. 1, administrators and teachers in grades six through 12 began enforcing the policy.
Complaints from parents quickly began popping up on local social media pages. Some parents said their children, mostly girls, were being held back from going to class and being singled out in front of other children due to alleged dress code violations. Many parents felt that the schools were not following the school’s policy and making decisions that were more strict than the actual policy.
Some principals were measuring shorts and skirts with tape measures while others used the “past fingertips” rule. Girls were being flagged who wore leggings with shirts that didn’t go down to their thighs. Other parents said they were told athletic shorts weren’t allowed, regardless of length.
The minimum dress requirements stated in the policy are:
- Clothing must cover from the top of the shoulder and extend down to mid-thigh.
- Rips or tears in clothing should be lower than mid-thigh.
- See-through or mesh garments must not be worn without clothing underneath that meets the minimum dress code requirements.
- Tight-fitting clothing must be covered with a garment that meets the minimum dress code requirements.
- Shoes must be worn at all times and should be safe for the school environment.
The school dress code also states that, “Students should be able to dress for school in a manner that expresses their individuality as long as it does not interfere with the learning process and health and safety of themselves or other students; and Students should be treated equitably. Dress code should not create disparities or reinforce or increase the marginalization of any individual or group.”
However, some parents are still concerned about the policy as it is written and how it continues to be enforced.
Meghan Anderson, a licensed professional counselor and mother of an OSD student, told the Board that she believes that her child and other students at Oxford Intermediate School and Oxford High School were in an “abusive relationship with the district.”
She listed the indicators of an abuser.
“They closely monitor everything you say and they isolated you from others. They rearrange the facts of the situation so that you walk away feeling confused. They’re dismissive of your concerns and feelings. They use shaming. They use ultimatums, threats and fear to keep you in line. They punish you for not meeting expectations, however they never defined what the expectation is. They’re hyper critical of your clothing and your body,” Anderson said.
She listed examples of how the girls were treated during the first week of school due to dress code violations. She claimed girls and boys were separated so that girls could be inspected for dress code.
“What I have experienced in the first three weeks of school is completely unacceptable and irresponsible,” she said. “Again, I use the phrase abuse of power, because that is exactly what’s happening. With the abuse of power comes not only an economic liability for you but lasting damage to our children. I further encourage you to evaluate the lack of consistency across the school’s website, policies, policy enforcement, administration, communication, and administrative resolution regarding complaints.”
Stacey Monteleone thanked the Board for the new policy and the attempts made to make it more inclusive; however, she said more work needed to be done.
“This code cannot be consistently administered, and it sends the wrong message to young women about their bodies and contributes to the sexualization and objectification of young women,” she said. “The most problematic reasoning for this part of the dress code is the mindset that girls have to cover up so boys don’t aren’t distracted. That sends a litany of harmful messages to young, impressionable students, girls and boys alike. Yes, this is part of a bigger social problem I know. But by telling them to cover up so the boys aren’t distracted you perpetuate the message that women’s bodies are inherently sexual and contribute to women being sexually objectified.”
Oxford High School senior Winnie Wilson presented another version of a dress code to the Board for its consideration on behalf of the OHS’s student body and the Student Council. The main part of the proposed dress code simply states that students must wear clothing that covers genitals, buttocks, breasts and nipples with opaque materials. It lists things that students cannot wear, which is similar to the district’s current policy: clothing that depicts drug use, racism, violence, pornography, etc.
Other parents addressing the Board were David Monteleone and Nancy Maria Balach.
Click here to view the entire Board meeting.