The Near North District School Board’s last update to its dress policy was in 2001. Much has changed since then, the board acknowledged, so a new draft has been adopted to better reflect the board’s commitment to “creating inclusive environments that are safe and equitable.”
At the last board meeting on May 9, Superintendent Gay Smylie provided an update on the new guideline. She emphasized how the 2001 version “really needed to be updated,” as it doesn’t “meet any of our tenets that we’re currently legislated to adhere to” – primarily the Ontario Human Rights Code (OHRC).
While drafting the new guidelines, research was conducted into what other boards are doing, and “many boards in Ontario have already moved to a more inclusive and equitable dress policy,” the board noted. Furthermore, “the new Student Dress Administrative Guideline advises why dress codes can be detrimental to specific groups and inequitably applied to specific OHRC rights.”
The draft guideline was posted on the board’s website from February 14 to March 15 for public consultation.
“There’s going to have to be a focus on professional development and an understanding of what is acceptable and what isn’t acceptable,” Smylie said, and the Safe Schools Team will provide training for principals and staff.
Training will emphasize “how to communicate student dress expectation related to specific health and safety,” the board noted, “and will also include “discussions about what is acceptable and how to address instances of inappropriate dress respectfully.”
The board “recognizes that decisions regarding dress are made with respect to individual expression, gender, cultural, creed and socio-economic needs, and are important to the overall health and well-being of an individual.”
Therefore, as the new guideline outlined, “all students should be able to dress for school without fear of unnecessary discipline, body shaming, bias, or discrimination.” Students have the right to wear what they like including clothing “that expresses their self-identified gender” and “religious attire without fear of discipline or discrimination.”
The board’s guideline also emphasized the “primary responsibility for student dress rests with the students themselves and their parents/guardians.”
However, the new guidelines also have standards students must adhere to. Genitals, nipples, and buttocks must remain under cover, underwear cannot be used as outerwear, and clothing and accessories must not display, suggest, or reference prejudice, racism, sexism, vulgarity, gang-related markings, profanity, hate speech alcohol or drugs, or pornography.
The old guideline noted that tops and bottoms must overlap, no hats or bandanas worn in school, and no backless outfits or spaghetti straps were allowed. Same with tank tops and muscle shirts.
The old version “is very conservative,” Smylie said. “It really supports a colonial viewpoint. It’s rigid and doesn’t allow for students to have any sort of self-expression.”
David Briggs is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of BayToday, a publication of Village Media. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.