British Columbia

B.C. high school quickly withdraws dress code after criticism over singling out female body

Anissa Watson, a mother of a teenage student, says a pamphlet issued by Hazelton Secondary School at the end of May outlining a new dress code featured "inappropriate" images of women, with arrows pointing to different parts of their bodies. 

Hazelton Secondary to have students help develop new code after pamphlet featured 'inappropriate' images

The latest Hazelton Secondary School dress code stated that girls were not allowed to show bare shoulders, cleavage, bare bellies or have any back showing.  (Chris Ensing/CBC)

A mother of a high school student in northern B.C. has criticized the school's recent attempt to clarify its dress code, calling it a "top-down approach" that unfairly singled out girls.

Anissa Watson says a pamphlet issued by Hazelton Secondary School at the end of May outlining the new dress code featured "inappropriate" images of women, with arrows pointing to different parts of their bodies. 

The pamphlet stated that girls were not allowed to show bare shoulders, cleavage, bare bellies or have any back showing. If they wore shorts, the dress code said, they were not to be shorter than the length of students' arms.

The pamphlet was quickly withdrawn by the school, which has now begun working with students to develop a new dress code.

Nevertheless, Watson said her teenage daughter was confused by and uncomfortable with the code.

"She had some valid concerns," Watson told Carolina de Ryk, host of Daybreak North

"I think as a teenager she was immediately sort of like, well, this is kind of what everybody's wearing these days ... There's a lot of things that we wear that are normal — tank tops and stuff like that. How are we supposed to dress?"

The pamphlet distributed to students and parents at Hazelton Secondary School. (Submitted by Anissa Watson)

'Big distraction to the boys'

Watson says her daughter attended a school assembly where students were informed of the dress code.  

"It had been communicated to her that the girls need to start covering up their bodies at school because it's a big distraction to the boys and they shouldn't have to cover their eyes when they're walking down the hallway," said Watson.

"I feel like it's a really top-down approach to communicating to the girls at the school that they need to be and act a certain way in order for it to be a safe learning space."

Watson says she feels that a large part of teenagers' self-expression is exploring how they dress.

"If we're going to talk to kids about being respectful and showing their bodies in public, we need to address it from a really equal perspective between genders," she added.

Under the proposed dress code, male students were not permitted to wear cut-off shirts, pants that expose underwear, or sunglasses. 

Anissa Watson says she feels that a large part of teenagers' self-expression is exploring how they dress. (CBC)

Collaborative plan

Janet Meyer, director of human resources at School District 82, says the dress code was chosen by school staff too quickly. But she applauds the way they quickly withdrew the pamphlet and launched a collaborative way to determine a new dress code.

Two student representatives from Hazelton Secondary have been tasked with looking at dress codes at other high schools, and developing one for their school. They will present their choice to parents, and then to the school, for approval in the summer.

"There's value put on student voices," Meyer said.

The school is located in Hazelton, a village that sits at the confluence of the Bulkley and Skeena rivers.

Listen to the full story here:

A mother whose daughter attends Hazelton Secondary School in Northern B.C. has spoken out against the school's most recent dress code rules. 7:47

With files from Daybreak North