In early September, junior Arianna Manning wrote a petition to change the BHS dress code. She stayed up until 2 a.m. formulating it. She was chiefly concerned with her observation that curvier female students receive more dress code violations for wearing the same rule-breaking garments as other students.
“We’re still put down for our bodies,” Manning said. The next day, Manning submitted the petition draft to @siliconvalleyprobs, an Instagram meme account with over 30,000 followers. The account featured the petition on its story, including a link to the petition on Change.org. As of Oct. 22, the petition has 1,015 signatures.
Manning spoke about the petition at the student council meeting which took place on Oct. 9. After, junior Katerina Rally recited the dress code regulation against “suggestive or revealing attire that would divert attention from the learning process or contribute to inappropriate conduct by other students.” She read the regulation from her phone. As soon as she finished speaking, the crowd of students erupted into disquieted murmurs.
“The trigger word for a lot of people is this idea of ‘distraction,’ that what I do and what I wear is my responsibility and how that impacts other people is their responsibility,” Principal Paul Belzer said. He initiated the dress code conversation at the student council meeting, allotting 15 minutes to answer questions and discuss the issue with students.
Belzer believes that there is a need to address situations in which students feel disrespected, but that there is also a need to cultivate a sense of professionalism and decorum at school. He repeated several times throughout the student council meeting that the issue requires the administration to “draw a line in the sand,” and listen to a wide variety of student perspectives.
“I think people are finding issues in something that is a non-issue,” senior Matt Zell said. He agreed with the idea posed by Belzer that the school environment warrants a level of professionalism. Zell also emphasized that there is a difference between dressing for the beach and dressing for school.
“Standards of decorum only ensure that students at school are focused chiefly on academics, instead of who is wearing the latest fashion,” senior Charlie Chapman wrote in a column in the San Mateo Daily Journal.
Associated with the current conversation around dress codes is the decision made by Alameda High School to dramatically roll back regulations regarding student dress. The new rule states that students are obligated to wear a top, bottoms, and shoes, while covering all necessary areas.
In response to the discussion sparked by Manning’s petition, Belzer is currently reviewing the wording of the dress code, specifically the regulation which contains the idea of “distraction.” If any revision occurs, Belzer plans to submit a draft to the Parents’ Group, the Associate Student Body (ASB)and staff and administration to review it. If the process does go through, Belzer hopes it will happen before the publication of the Code of Conduct for the 2019-2020 school year.
“It’s trying to find that balance between a certain level of autonomy and choice while maintaining a level of decorum and expectations for the community,” Belzer said.