Nova Scotia

Crop-top protest results in new dress code at Sydney Academy

A Sydney, N.S., high school is getting a more relaxed dress code after more than 15 police officers were called to deal with about 30 students protesting that the code banned crop tops and was sexist toward girls.

School advisory committee agrees to adopt more lenient dress code after students do research, make pitch

Students at Sydney Academy are getting a new dress code after a December protest by about 30 students who said the code is sexist toward girls and unfairly sexualizes them. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

Students at a Sydney, N.S., high school are getting a new, more relaxed dress code following a major protest last month.

In December, more than 15 Cape Breton Regional Police officers were sent to Sydney Academy after about 30 students publicly complained the code banned crop tops and was sexist toward girls.

On Thursday, the students proposed a more lenient dress code during an online meeting of the school advisory committee.

Brigid Milburn, who is in Grade 12 and is vice-president of the student assembly, said students agree a dress code helps prepare them for the working world.

"It's definitely important to have a standard of dress, but we just thought the old standard of dress, or the current one ... was just disproportionately affecting people instead of focusing on the actual professionalism of the clothing," she said.

"Us as a student committee found that the dress code really targets specifically girls, instead of focusing mainly on the appropriate clothing to wear to a workplace."

Code targets girls

The code specifically bans tank tops, tube tops and bare midriffs.

Students and some parents said last month that policy unfairly sexualizes girls' belly buttons, while saying nothing about boys.

The students proposed a new policy to the advisory council that does not mention midriffs or target girls' clothing.

Instead, it says undergarments can't be worn as a single item of clothing and it says groins, butts and nipples have to be covered.

The new policy also says students should be trusted to dress appropriately and safely depending on their activities.

Grade 10 student Lemuela Ajuwon told the advisory committee that a survey of the school's roughly 700 students got 334 responses.

She said 170 students agreed the current dress code makes them uncomfortable, while 161 said it did not.

Ajuwon also said 296 said a more lenient policy would not make them uncomfortable, while only 35 said it would.

More than 15 officers responded to last month's protest. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

"If so many people are indifferent to the dress code, then we believe that those who want to have a more open dress code should be given the freedom to dress however they would like to," she said.

A school in Chilliwack, B.C., relaxed its dress code and students there displayed more confidence and comfort with their clothes, said Ajuwon.

A Toronto school board also adopted a more lenient dress code similar to the one proposed at Sydney Academy, she said, and students there are self-regulating their dress appropriately.

Grade 10 student Ashlyn Carriere said 218 students surveyed said the current dress code unfairly targets girls and that affects their body image and mental health.

Brigid Milburn, who is in Grade 12 and is vice-president of Sydney Academy's student assembly, says she's happy the advisory council was open-minded and listened to students. (CBC)

The advisory council agreed to adopt the proposed code, but plans to add some definitions before making it permanent at next week's meeting.

For example, the advisory council briefly debated whether a tube top should be considered an undergarment.

One student said tube tops are not sold in the undergarment department, but added the definition could be open to interpretation.

Milburn said the reaction of the school advisory council shows the protest was a success.

"I think it went really, really well," said Milburn. "I'm happy that everybody was so open-minded and ready to listen to what we had to say and to hear our concerns."

'Time for policy to change,' says principal

School principal and advisory council spokesperson Kevin Deveaux said the code is revised regularly, but has not seen major changes in 15 years.

"I don't believe it was ever meant to sexualize anybody," he said. "It would be what would be appropriate for a workplace."

Deveaux said the students made a good argument for a relaxed code.

"I understand where they're coming from and it is time for the policy to change," he said.

However, to enforce the code, Deveaux said it needs to be clear.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tom Ayers

Reporter/Editor

Tom Ayers has been a reporter and editor for more than 30 years. He has spent the last 16 years covering Cape Breton and Nova Scotia stories. You can reach him at tom.ayers@cbc.ca.

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