A school district in Roanoke, Virginia has approved a gender-neutral dress code that its proponents hope will keep girls from being singled out for their style.
On Thursday, the Roanoke County School Board unanimously voted in favor of a dress code that holds boys and girls to the same standards. In many U.S. schools, dress codes tend to contain language targeting only girls' attire, including references to bare midriffs, bra straps and skirt lengths.
Don Butzer, the chairman of the Roanoke County School Board, told TODAY Style that he hopes the new code, which is supported by nearly 60 percent of parents, will simplify the rules for students to follow and make things more fair in regard to gender.
"The old dress codes we had and that many schools have today single out girls for bra straps and undergarments and many things girls wear," Butzer said, noting that girls are most often "dress-coded," meaning they are called in for infractions.
"The new policy is probably the most progressive in Virginia," he said. "Our goal was to make it as simple as possible." The new dress code has been edited down from over five pages to one page with a handy diagram showing acceptable clothing measurements across the body.
Butzer says that it was a parent, Jeannie Keen, who championed the idea of changing the dress code after her daughter Olivia, who is set to enter ninth grade in the fall, was "dress-coded" for wearing a pair of track shorts that were deemed too short.
"Within the first two weeks of sixth grade, Olivia and many other girls were dress-coded for wearing athletic shorts," she told TODAY. "I took a photo of what she had on that day and sent it to my school board rep in order to begin a dialogue. I also used a gender-neutral dress code model from Portland, Oregon as an example of how it can be done."
A new dress code was drafted and subsequently sent to all of the school principals in the district.
"Once we had buy-in from the principals we sent it out to all parents in Roanoke County," said Butzer. "We asked for feedback and sent a survey."
Students' views were included in the new dress code, too. The Student Advisory Council, a group of student representatives, which meets monthly, were asked to weigh in. Butzer believes that students will be happy with the changes. He says that the new code will be easier to enforce.
"In the past, enforcement was all over the map," he said, stating that he's relieved that no male teacher will be put in the position of having to measure the length of a female student's skirt.
He noted that parents in opposition to the code were more likely to say that students should wear uniforms or not be allowed to wear clothing such as shorts at all. "This area is very conservative, " he said. "I feel proud that we're doing something progressive."
"It's time for schools to take a hard look at creating modern policies that don't include measuring girls' attire to ensure they're fit to be educated," said Keen.