Bra straps, sunglasses, hats, short shorts, slippers and pajamas.
Those are just a few of the numerous types of clothing that are prohibited in schools under the Orange County Board of Education’s dress code policy.
A Sept. 22 protest at Cedar Ridge High School, which organizers estimated over 50 students participated in, drew attention to the policy. Male protesters wore handmade shirts stating, “I am not an animal,” while females wore shirts stating, “I am not an object.”
Students at both high schools criticized the code and how it is enforced.
The code, policy 4304, states that the board “respects a student’s right to choose his or her style of dress or appearance” but “requires students to appear at school fully clothed and groomed in an appropriate manner consistent with a proper atmosphere for learning.”
It bans “disruptive, provocative, indecent, vulgar, (and) obscene” clothing. Typically, students wearing prohibited items are asked to change into appropriate attire. The maximum punishment for violators in high school is three days of out-of-school suspension.
The policy was last updated in 2008.
“All of the board policies are undergoing review as a part of a larger policy review process that the board is undertaking,” district spokesman Seth Stephens said. The board’s policy subcommittee is in the 2000 section of board policies, and the policies are being reviewed in numerical order.
In random interviews, several students at Orange High School said they don’t like the code and/or find it sexist. One respondent thought the dress code is too strict, while another said that it’s too strongly enforced.
Sarah Oechsle, a 17-year-old senior at Orange High, says “girls are more restricted” by the policy and thinks this perpetuates the idea that women are responsible for men’s behavior.
The policy implies “we have to dress to not provoke” men, she said. One of Oechsle’s teachers, whom she didn’t wish to name, “has said he prefers it cold so girls cover themselves.”
Ida van der Drift, a 16-year-old Cedar Ridge junior who helped plan the protest, said she would prefer to have the dress code “revert to how it was last year.” She believes the code has been more strongly enforced this year.
“Especially in the beginning, it felt as though half of the female population had been asked to change how they were wearing clothes, and students were being called out publicly,” she said. She would like to see the code rewritten to be gender neutral and less arbitrary.
Cedar Ridge Principal Heather Blackmon said she understands students’ concerns, but sees “no reason for this to lead to other protests.” She would prefer that students bothered by the policy present alternatives to her and the board.
Orange High Assistant Principal Will Okun did not think the protest would affect the dress code there. He has not received “that many” complaints so far this year. He said the school tries to avoid sexism in its enforcement of the dress code by applying rules to students of both genders. “We try to make it the best we can to have things be equitable.”
He declined to say whether or not he disagreed with any aspects of the policy. “I have an opinion on it, but my job is to enforce the dress code,” he said.