British Columbia

Gender neutrality part of new student dress guidelines for Chilliwack schools

On Tuesday, the Chilliwack School District approved new student dress guidelines for all schools in the district to follow when each develops its own dress policies.

The policy sets guidelines for schools, which may each establish their own dress code

Students at Trafalgar Middle School in Nelson, B.C., wore shorts and high-rise shirts to school in May 2017 to protest the school's dress code. (Bob Keating/CBC)

Dress guidelines at schools in Chilliwack, B.C., will now need to be gender neutral and focus on safety over modesty. 

On Tuesday, the Chilliwack School District approved new student dress guidelines for all schools in the district to follow when each develops its own dress policies.

Trustee and vice chair Willow Reichelt brought forward the original motion to establish a dress code, after noticing that dress codes at individual schools were often discriminatory toward girls.

"They tended to focus on things like spaghetti straps and bra straps and the lengths of girls shorts and stuff, and girls would be dress-coded in a way that often cause shame or caused them to miss class," Reichelt said. 

Previously, the district didn't have any guidelines. Under the new policy, schools will have to establish policies that address the need for "inclusivity and gender neutrality" and focus on "safety rather than modesty."

The policy further clarifies that school dress guidelines shouldn't focus on punishing offenders. 

"If a student comes to school dressed in clothing that is not appropriate for the day's activities, this should be dealt with in a way that does not cause shame or loss of learning time," the policy reads. 

After a back and forth between the committee that developed the plan and the school trustees, Reichelt said the approved policy is a huge step forward. 

"The new code sets forward a philosophy that we want dress codes to not be about policing modesty and to not be about shaming girls bodies or anybody's body. And I think that's awesome," she said.

Two trustees voted against the new policy: Barry Neufeld and Heather Maahs. 

During the debate, Neufeld questioned the meaning of gender neutrality. 

"I'm just wondering what that means. Does that mean that no student is allowed to wear a frilly dress? Will girls no longer be allowed to purchase gowns for the high school prom?"

Other trustees clarified that is not the case and the intent of the policy is to make sure the rules for dress are the same regardless of gender.  

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