British Columbia

'It body-shames girls': B.C. teen prompts school district to change student dress code

Jaylene Kuo, 18, is being applauded for her advocacy by the Comox Valley School District, which recently announced that it has revised the dress codes at its 20 schools after Kuo presented her objections to some of the language and policies. 

Comox Valley School District has removed language referring to gender-specific clothing

Mark R. Isfeld Secondary School student Jaylene Kuo succeeded in getting the Comox School District to update the student dress code. (Submitted/Jaylene Kuo)

A Courtenay, B.C., student who spoke up about the outdated dress codes in her school district has sparked a district-wide policy change. 

Jaylene Kuo, 18, is being applauded for her advocacy by the Comox Valley School District, which recently announced that it has revised the dress codes at its 20 schools after Kuo presented her objections to some of the language and policies. 

Kuo first noticed issues with the district's dress codes when an email arrived in the spring from her brother's elementary school, reminding students to be aware of the school's policy with the warm weather approaching. 

She found references to shoulder straps, skirts and dresses. She also looked at other Courtenay schools' dress codes and found repeated references to the words "distracting" and "appropriate."

"It shocked me how much [it was] focused on the way girls can or cannot dress," Kuo said. "It body-shames girls and it's offensive to boys because it suggests they can't control their thoughts."

Kuo started a Social Justice project about the issue in June. She made a video and also wrote a letter to school board trustees asking them to change school dress codes. She followed up with a second letter in October. 

School board on board

Comox Valley School Board chair Ian Hargreaves told CBC that senior staff started addressing dress code revisions with district principals and vice-principals after Kuo's letter was discussed at their October meeting. 

"We recognized all schools needed to update existing language to be more reflective of society's values today," Hargreaves said, noting the district supports students becoming champions of change, global citizens and compassionate young adults who make constructive contributions to their schools and to society.

In particular, Hargreaves singled out Kuo for taking an idea and turning it into initiative that led to action.

"Jaylene Kuo's forthrightness was acknowledged positively at the November board meeting, and thanked for bringing about positive change to the dress code at her school, Mark R. Isfeld," Hargreaves said.

Comox Valley School District assistant superintendent Jeff Manning announced the sweeping change to the district's schools at the November 26 school board meeting. 

"They've removed any language that refers to gender-specific clothing items, and they've also removed the term 'distracting' from all of their dress codes," Manning said at the meeting.

While Kuo is pleased she was able to bring about the change, she is modest about her accomplishment. 

"I'm really happy my school changed its dress code, and I hoped other schools will do it too," she said.

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