On Oct. 15, the Policy Committee of the District 65 School Board considered a draft of a new Dress Code policy, submitted by Jessica Plaza, Orrington Principal, Andalib Khelghati, Assistant Superintendent of Schools, Joyce Bartz, Assistant Superintendent of Special Services, and Donna Cross, MTSS Coordinator.

In preparing the proposed policy, administrators gathered input in three focus groups that included community members, students, parents and District staff. They also conducted a student focus group with 35 students. Administrators said the changes have already been incorporated into the student handbook for the 2018-2019 school year.

“Our goal is to create a comprehensive Student Dress Code policy that outlines clear guidelines for acceptable clothing that supports individual students’ self-expression, freedom of speech and provides concrete examples of what students may and may not wear throughout the school day. Our focus is on building an environment that allows students to express themselves while participating in an environment that promotes learning.”

A “Basic Principle” of the Dress Code is “Certain body parts must be covered for all students at all times. Clothes must be worn in a way such that genitals, buttocks, breasts, and nipples are fully covered with opaque fabric. Cleavage does not have coverage requirements. All items listed in the ‘must wear and ‘may wear’ categories below must meet this basic principle.”

The Dress Code says students must wear the following, while adhering to the Basic Principle: “a) a shirt (with fabric in the front, back, and on the sides under the arms); and b) pants/jeans or the equivalent (for example, a skirt, sweatpants, leggings, a dress or shorts); c) shoes; d) clothing must be suitable for all scheduled classroom activities …”

Students may wear a hat facing straight forward or backward (but a student’s face must be visible); religious headwear; hoodie sweatshirts, but the face and ears must be visible; fitted pants, including opaque leggings, yoga pants and “skinny jeans;” pajamas, as long as underwear and buttocks are not exposed; tank tops, including spaghetti straps  and halter tops; athletic attire; and visible waistbands on undergarments or visible straps on undergarments worn under other clothing, as long as this is done in a way that does not violate other provisions of the Dress Code.

Students may not wear clothing that contains violent language, hate speech, profanity, pornography, or that depicts drugs or alcohol, or that creates a hostile environment, or that reveals visible undergarments or swimsuits.

If students violate the Dress Code they will be asked to put on alternative clothing (if they have some), provided with temporary school clothing, or parents may be called to bring alternative clothing.

The Dress Code provides that students will not be “shamed” by, for example, asking them to kneel or bend over to check the attire, or by measuring straps or skirt length. The Code prohibits applying the provisions in a discriminatory manner.

School Board members had limited discussion about the proposed new Dress Code. Board President Suni Kartha asked about the requirement that if a hat is worn it must be facing straight forward or backward. Mr. Khelghati said they would look into the rationale, and determine if the requirement gets in the way of learning.

Since the changes were already put in place when school started, Ms. Kartha asked if any issues had been raised. Mr. Khelghati said he had received positive feedback.

Mr. Khelghati said staff plans to obtain additional feedback from students and present a proposed final Dress Code to the Board for approval in January.

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...