British Columbia

School dress codes unfairly single out girls, Chilliwack trustee says

Willow Reichelt, vice-chair of Chilliwack's board of education, is bringing a motion on Tuesday to introduce a dress code that's not based on gender, body type, culture or socioeconomic factors.

Willow Reichelt presenting motion to school board to change policies she says generally apply to girls only

School dress codes often unfairly target girls, says Chilliwack school trustee Willow Reichelt. (Bob Keating/CBC)

UPDATE — March 13, 2019: Chilliwack school trustees voted to refer the dress code motion to the Education Policy Advisory Committee for feedback after a meeting on March 12. Members of the committee, including trustees, teachers and students, will examine the dress code policy and then respond to the board.

ORIGINAL STORY:

Short shorts and spaghetti straps fall foul of many school dress codes but in Chilliwack, one school trustee is trying to overturn such bans.

Willow Reichelt, vice-chair of Chilliwack's board of education, is bringing a motion on Tuesday to introduce a dress code that's not based on gender, body type, culture or socioeconomic factors.

"The current dress codes tend to be applied only against girls," she said.

"And often only against a certain type of girl, too — it tends to be girls with larger chests, for example, that are targeted."

She's pushing for dress-code rules around modesty to be set by families and not the school board because the lines can be so subjective.

"One family might have a different standard than another," she told Stephen Quinn, host of CBC's The Early Edition.

"Our job as a school board is to teach kids to respect everyone, regardless of what they are wearing."

Different dress codes

Reichelt pointed to the Greater Victoria School District's dress code, which was adopted last April, as an example for Chilliwack.

That policy states that students may wear whatever they wish as long as it meets health and safety standards. It also can't have any messaging that promotes drugs, alcohol or discrimination.

Schools in Chilliwack currently have their own individual dress codes.

Chilliwack Secondary School, for example, includes rules that students "are to not wear clothing that is overly revealing." Students wearing inappropriate clothing are asked to change to "proper attire."

The problem with the dress codes is the messages it sends to girls, Reichelt said.

"It teaches girls that their bodies are somehow shameful and it's up to them to control other people's behaviour," she said.

"It's not up to girls to make life easier for other people based on what they are wearing."

So far, Reichelt said, she's had mostly positive feedback to her proposal and she's hopeful about the effect her motion will have, even if the board votes against it.

"If my motion does fail, I think I've started a good conversation and we might be able to come up with something else in the future," she said.

"I'm hopeful that, one way or another, Chilliwack is going to have a non-sexist dress code eventually."

With files from The Early Edition

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