The School Dress Code Debate: Let’s Empower Our Kids

A debate is simmering across the country about school dress code policies and if they have gone too far in singling out young girls with stringent requirements that go beyond reasonable. A school in central Kentucky has received national attention due to dress code policy. Woodford County High School states in their dress code policy that all shirts must be crewneck and may not expose collarbones. A section of the dress code states, “All scoop neck, v-neck, and tank tops are prohibited unless worn with a crewneck shirt.” This young woman was sent home for wearing the following outfit, which exposed her collarbones:

dress code
Photo of Stacie Dunn’s daughter that has been shared more than 40,000 times on Facebook.

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While I agree that the policy of not showing collarbones is excessive and fully in the category of nonsense, it is still a rule that is clearly written in the Woodford County dress code policy. While I suppose you could put “intentional dress code violation” in the category of peaceful protest, is it okay to tell our children they only have to follow the rules they agree with?

The epitome of empowerment is having the ability to advocate for change in effective ways regarding issues that are important to you. What about starting a school wide petition or letter writing campaign? How about attending a school board meeting or requesting a personal meeting with the superintendent or principal?

I don’t agree with posting pictures on social media in an effort to shame the school district. While I do agree that concealment of collarbones is an arcane notion, I think you can still empower your teenager by showing them how to be a champion for their cause in a way that is respectful, direct, and professional. This is an opportunity to empower your teenager in a way that isn’t dependent on the outcome.

The other issue is the seeming attack on the female form. It’s no secret that most school dress code policies are aimed at girls. While I agree that guidelines should be set for both boys and girls on how to dress at school, it seems that logic and common sense have gone by the wayside. I liken some of these policies (such as no collarbones) to not being able to take your tweezers in a carry on bag when flying. It is an overreaction that serves no real practical purpose. Loose guidelines, with the ability for administrators to exercise sound personal judgment, would result in more logical enforcement of rules.

The final piece of this puzzle is teaching and reinforcing respect for our fellow humans. Teenagers are hormonal in high school, both boys and girls. We should have more conversations with our kids about the fundamental human importance of treating other people with respect, regardless of gender or what they have on. General dress guidelines emphasizing the use of good personal judgment along with conversations about appropriate behavior and mutual respect are key. We need to expect our children to make good decisions and give them some amount of power to do so.

Regulating things like collarbone exposure sends the message to kids that they are not capable of making good decisions. These policies need to be changed, but that will not always happen no matter how effectively the case has been made. The onus is on parents to teach their children to respect themselves, advocate for their beliefs, and respect their fellow man. This includes teaching them that sometimes you win and sometimes you lose, even when you’re right. They can be empowered and learn self respect with either result.