Austin ISD revises dress-code to be more inclusive

Teenage students in high school hall.

Teenage students in high school hall.

As Austin ISD students prepare to head back to class next week, the district has rolled out a new dress code.

The move comes after parents signed a petition claiming the dress code didn't uphold the district's values of equity, diversity and inclusion. The petition claimed the dress code was vague and also had a greater impact on girls and gender non-conforming students. *See petition below.

Under the new dress code, students can now show bra straps and their underwear's waistband.

The school district says there are the following general guidelines:

1. Basic Principle: Certain body parts must be covered for all students at all times.

  • Clothes must be worn in a way such that abdomen, genitals, buttocks, breasts and nipples are fully covered with opaque fabric.
  • All items listed in the “must wear” and “may wear” categories below must meet this basic principle.

2. Students Must Wear*, while following the basic principle of Section 1 above:

  • A shirt (with fabric that touches the waistband in the front, back, and on the sides under the arms), AND
  • Pants/jeans or the equivalent (for example, a skirt, sweatpants, leggings, a dress or shorts), AND
  • Shoes.

3. Students May Wear, as long as these items do not violate Section 1 above:

  • Religious headwear
  • Hats facing straight forward or straight back and must allow the face and ears to be visible to staff and not interfere with the line of sight
  • Hoodie sweatshirts (wearing the hood over head is allowed, but the face and ears must be visible to school staff)
  • Fitted pants, including opaque leggings, yoga pants and “skinny jeans”
  • Ripped jeans, as long as underwear and buttocks are not exposed
  • Tank tops, including spaghetti straps
  • Halter tops 
  • Athletic attire

4. Students Cannot Wear:

  • Violent language or images
  • Images or language depicting drugs or alcohol (or any illegal item or activity). or any other substance prohibited under FNCF(LEGAL)
  • Hate speech, profanity, pornography
  • Images or language that creates a hostile or intimidating environment based on any protected class or consistently marginalized groups
  • Any clothing that reveals visible undergarments (waistbands and straps excluded)
  • Swimsuits (except as required in class, field trips, or athletic practice see “Extracurricular Activities”)
  • Accessories that could be considered dangerous or could be used as a weapon
  • Any item that obscures the face or ears (except as a religious observance)

The following is a petition sent to the Austin ISD Board of Trustees requesting a change in the dress code:

Austin ISD Board of Trustees,

As an Austin ISD parent, I am asking that the district dress code be reviewed and revised in a way that is inclusive, equitable, and body positive.

The current district dress code does not uphold the AISD values of equity, diversity, and inclusion. It contains vague language, arbitrary restrictions, and emphasizes bans on clothing that are primarily worn by females and minorities. It also allows for individual schools to create additional restrictions, which leads to further inequality across our district.

A revised dress code needs to be clear, meaningful, and precise. Vague and subjective language abounds in the current dress code. In the current code, many phrases, such as shorts that “distract,” clothing appropriate to the “school setting and weather conditions,” and clothes that “demonstrate modesty,” are open to interpretation. There are arbitrary restrictions as well, such as elongated arm-holes being restricted in elementary school, but not in middle and high school. Removing arbitrary and vague language, and giving our teachers and administrators guidelines that are straightforward and clear, will help eliminate bias in enforcement and lead to a more equitable, respectful and positive learning environment.

In addition to clarity in the code, we need a code that does not disproportionately impact girls and gender non-conforming students. The current district dress code has a focus on policing female bodies. Girls tend to be more often singled out and lose instruction time because their attire is deemed inappropriate. This sends an embarrassing and dangerous message to both our boys and girls that a girl’s body is more important than her education, and that we can’t trust our children to control their own thoughts and feelings without intervention. Eliminating the gender focus in our dress code will foster trust, self confidence, body positive images, and equality among students.

Girls are not the only ones singled out in the current dress code. The ban on baggy pants, athletic shorts, and some school-specific hair restrictions are culturally insensitive and discriminatory. These restrictions exacerbate the disproportionately higher disciplinary actions that our black students and students of color already face. Removing racism from our dress code will result in more diverse and inclusive classrooms and better reflect community and district values.

Other districts, such as Portland Public Schools, Chicago’s Evanston Township, and California’s San Jose Unified, have tackled the issues with dress codes and adopted more sensible and equitable codes for their students. I would like to see Austin look to these other districts as models, and join their ranks. I ask that the board of trustees form a committee to review and revise the dress code in a way that better reflects our values.

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