One small, shy child changed my school’s dress code

So often, when children attempt to advocate for something they believe in at school, adults make the mistake of getting defensive and worse, stand by the mantra that “This is the way things are,” without ever examining why they are the way they are. Last spring, as the weather warmed in New Jersey, we announced and reposted our dress code. Rather than the usual murmurs and griping about fairness we often hear among middle-school adolescents, an interesting thing happened.

The morning after a Board of Education meeting, I was notified that something important had happened. A child unknown to me other than the timid smile she would flash at me in the hall as I greeted her and other students with a “Good morning!” had stood before the Board of Education at a public and televised meeting, advocating for a more equitable dress code in our school. Armed with a petition signed by hundreds of students, she came prepared. When I learned about this, I was motivated to ask why, and to revisit our dress code. Indeed, there was wording in it that was clearly directed at female students. No wonder they were petitioning; the dress code was not gender neutral, nor was it gender equitable.

I began to explore this under the current media coverage of the #MeToo movement and other rights groups standing up for female, and more specifically, gender equitable rights. I was fascinated not only by the degree of press coverage on this, but also by movements of pioneering school districts in places like Oregon and California.…Read More