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Decatur School Board will review school district’s dress code

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Decatur School Board will review school district’s dress code

City Schools of Decatur School Board from left, James Herndon (vice chair), Dr. Carmen Sulton, Jana Johnson-Davis (chair), Superintendent Dr. Maggie Fehrman, Tasha White and Hans Utz. Photo by Dean Hesse.

Decatur, GA — Parents raised various concerns about City Schools of Decatur’s dress code during the school board meeting on Sept. 13. The concerns arose after the Beacon Hill Middle School principal emailed parents reminding them about the dress code.

Superintendent Maggie Fehrman agreed to review the dress code policy and bring it before the school board to look at any potential changes. She added that she is open to working with the student advisory committee to review and update the dress code.

Parent Emily Beard said the dress code checks all the boxes against the kind of equity CSD purports to uphold.

“My 12-year-old is uncomfortable in her learning environment because the adults around her as so focused on the length of her skirt and whether her classmates’ bra straps are showing,” Beard said. “Dress coding contributes to rape culture where blame is conveniently shifted from the one who harms to the one who is harmed because look at he, she, they are wearing and how could they, she, he resist.”

Fehrman said the dress code has been in place and unchanged for a while. The policy was updated during the COVID-19 pandemic to include information about masks.

The dress code was also revised several years ago to remove gender-specific clothing items and wanted to make sure there was flexibility for all students to dress in a way that they feel comfortable, she added.

“I want to point out that in no way does our code reference any type of length of shorts or skirts or even bras. It was designed to be appropriate for students in every grade level,” Fehrman said.

Board member Dr. Carmen Sulton mentioned that one line of the dress code policy is being focused on “and we’ve run away with it, which is how much of your behind or how much of your belly button is showing when you walk through the school door.”

“But in that policy as well, it says that you are not allowed to wear clothing that is racially offensive, that is religiously offensive. It gives our Muslim sisters the ability to wear a hijab peacefully,” Sulton said.

Some parents also raised concerns that the dress code disproportionately impacts girls, especially girls of color.

Sulton, a mom of four Black girls, said that policies like a dress code can be used as a disciplinary tool.

“That’s what it means when we say that these policies are different for our African American girls,” Sulton said. “But I want to be clear that I didn’t take this position to put across any policy that would harm any female student at all.”

School Board Chair Jana Johnson-Davis was a teacher at Beacon Hill Middle School. She said she has witnessed the dress code used as a disciplinary tool against Black girls.

The school board members also agreed that the dress code needs to be enforced consistently and equitably.

“My issues I will highlight are one, the dress code is being sold differently by different teachers. Leggings, no leggings, tights, no tights. My sixth grader brought home the 2017 pre-amended dress code. That’s a problem because that creates mixed messages,” School Board Vice Chair James Herndon said.

Johnson-Davis added that she knew girls who were suspended for wearing leggings to school when she was a teacher.

Board member Hans Utz suggested the district look at two sections of the policy.

“I think the section where we talked about under layers, like long underwear, tights and leggings, that is targeted towards women. When we talk about dress to cover your waist, torso, midriff, chest and undergarments that is principally targeted towards women. I think that those two sections need a really heavy rethink on how that’s worded and how hard we go after that. This is not, I think, the hill that we need to die on,” Utz said.

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