After the former dress code led to some students feeling singled out for enforcement, the Greater Victoria school board has adopted a new policy that recognizes factors such as “individual expression of identity” in clothing choices.
Coming up with a new code involved a lengthy process with 16 public meetings since June 2016. It will be reviewed annually.
Schools have had their own dress codes, but an overarching policy is seen as a means of bringing compatibility. Among the concerns discussed by school trustees was the need to have gender equity, where girls’ clothing is not looked at more strictly than boys’ clothing.
Greater Victoria school board chairman Tom Ferris said he is pleased with the result of discussions, but a dress code can only go so far. “There’s a limit to what you can do because you’re limited somewhat by the B.C. Human Rights Code,” Ferris said.
“So it’s pretty hard to be restrictive and a lot of people were looking to get some kind of restrictive language in the actual dress part, like what can you or can’t you wear.”
Restrictions tend to be hard to come by in other situations, as well, Ferris said.
“If you look at the history of Canada, different cases across the country that have been contested, invariably any attempt to restrict dress has failed.”
Ferris said the focus of the new dress code is that no one should feel uncomfortable. “So you can’t discriminate against somebody because of what they wear.
“And on the other hand our expectation is that people will dress appropriately for learning.”
Stipulations in the dress code include that clothing should not “promote drugs or alcohol, display offensive language or images or encourage discrimination.”
As well, the dress code stresses students should have a learning environment that is “safe, responsive and inclusive” while acknowledging that such things as “sociocultural norms and economic factors” go into their choice of clothing.
The dress code also says that principals should support it in a way “that does not reinforce or increase marginalization or oppression” relating to such things as race, sex, gender identity, and body type.
Cloverdale Traditional School can continue to have its standard uniform under the dress code.
Ferris said there are clear contrasts about suitable dress for different activities.
“Obviously what you’re going to wear in a chemistry lab and what you’re going to wear in a gymnasium are not going to be the same thing,” he said. “So there is some leeway in terms of saying to a student: ‘This may not be appropriate for what’s happening here.’ ”
Tasha Diamant, who has one daughter in high school and one in elementary school, said she likes the new dress code and is happy it took some time to be formulated. “I’m glad that there’s been a lot of awareness made.”
Audrey Smith, president of the Victoria Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils, said she believes parents looking at the dress code “will do with it what they must.”
“It is fairly generic, so it should be fine.”
She said many parents feel that a dress code works best when looked at on a school-specific basis.
In the Sooke school district, there is no overall regulation or policy around dress codes for students, said superintendent Jim Cambridge.
“We have codes of conduct mentioned in some of our high schools and middle schools.”
Those codes of conduct are based on the B.C. Human Rights Code and do not allow clothing that promotes violence, drugs or alcohol, he said.