At the Policy Committee meeting on April 30, Assistant Superintendent Andalib Khelghati said, “There is a need to review and update the Student Appearance Dress Code Policy.”

He said the District’s commitment to equity “calls us to focus on how our school climate – including how students dress – may lift or diminish all students’ experiences.” 

In a memo to the Board, Mr. Khelghati said the current policy and Student Handbook do not include provisions that address the role that bias can play in how students can dress. “The student handbook has a list of areas of concern that can be seen as negatively impactful to students and their self-perception.”

At the Policy Committee meeting, he said the way in which the District’s current handbook may be interpreted “does leave room for the potential of discriminating and shaming practices.” He added the handbook also tends to contain “highly gendered language.”

Mr. Khelghati said he recommended that School Board adopt policy and handbook changes, “which better reflect our equity policy and reduce any adverse impact of dressing for school that could impinge on one’s gender identification or culture.”

He gave several options.  

First, he suggested either adopting the Portland Public Schools’ Dress Code or alternatively using it as a basis for convening several focus groups of parents, students, teachers and principals to update and changing the Portland dress code based on Evanston’s priorities. The Portland dress code was adopted after a year-long community engagement process.

Second, the District could adopt the dress code recently adopted by Evanston Township High School, or use it as a base to work from.

Suni Kartha suggested using the ETHS dress code and working back to the fifth grade. She said it was locally developed, and it might be beneficial to have something similar in tone and focus. At the Board’s Dec. 11, 2017 meeting, Haven parents and students submitted a petition urging that District 65 adopt ETHS’s dress code.

Third, Mr. Khelghati said the Board could keep its current policy and amend the Student Handbook by removing shaming language and language that unfairly targets groups of students. This would include removing exclusionary practices from the handbook for dress code violations, he said. 

Board member Sergio Hernandez said it would be key to eliminate policies that marginalize students. He said what he liked about the Portland School District policy is it built capacity of teachers and community members.

Board member Joey Hailpern said administrators should have time to meet with principals, teachers and parents to find out what are the “local issues around dress.”

Board President Suni Kartha suggested that administrators meet with the school climate teams as a good first step in gathering input. She suggested the school climate teams might also play a role in conducting parent and student focus groups.

Superintendent Paul Goren suggested taking the Portland and ETHS dress codes and “see where we can mesh them together,” and then figure out a process to engage the climate action teams, administrators and others in an appropriate manner. In the meantime, he said, administrators could review the Student Handbook and make changes that they think are appropriate.

It appeared that the Policy Committee concurred with that approach.

Larry Gavin

Larry Gavin was a co-founder of the Evanston RoundTable in 1998 and assisted in its conversion to a non-profit in 2021. He has received many journalism awards for his articles on education, housing and...