A Grade 12 student at Courtenay’s Mark. R. Isfeld Secondary is questioning the board of education over inconsistent dress codes within the district.
For the last board meeting on Oct. 22, Comox Valley school trustees received a letter from student Jaylene Kuo to follow up on an earlier message to the board she had sent them in June.
“We’ve been working with schools asking them to review their dress codes, working with their school communities,” superintendent Tom Demeo told the board at the meeting. “It’s something that we’ll continue to work, and we’ll report back to the board.”
Kuo was prompted to look further into the issue after her brother, who attends Valley View Elementary, was given a general reminder to pay attention to the school dress code as the warm weather was approaching in the spring. She even put together a video on YouTube about the issue.
When Kuo looked through the code, she found it was targeted more toward girls than boys.
“I was shocked to see the number of rules that specifically targeted the way girls dress,” she wrote to the board, adding that almost every sentence seemed to be directed toward female students.
Kuo told the board she feels the code should be “respectful, modern and gender-neutral.”
As far as her own school, she wrote the dress code was vaguely written and left open to personal interpretation, which she described as unfair, biased and demeaning to all genders.
In general, she says many of the dress codes throughout Comox Valley schools refer to “distracting” clothing, meaning that it distracts other people. This, Kuo feels, comes with a couple of problems. For a female student pulled out of class because her clothing might be too distracting, it sends a message that she should be ashamed of herself and her body. For boys, it assumes they are not capable of controlling their thoughts and actions.
Kuo has requested the board adopt a policy along the lines of other districts such as Victoria or Chilliwack. She has found some examples of cases in other provinces or countries, including Oxford University. In one case, she came across a story about a five-year-old girl sent home for wearing a sundress, and she started wondering what kind of message this sends to young girls.
In part, this campaign started as a social justice class assignment for Kuo, and initially, she was thinking of tackling an issue on a broader scale but decided to focus on something close to home.
“This is something that I might actually be able to make a change in,” she says.
Already, Isfeld has simplified its policy, which has been pared down, Kuo says, to matters of safety or prohibiting any clothing that promotes alcohol and drug use.
“I’m really happy that Isfeld changed their dress code,” she adds.
Kuo is hoping the district will follow suit and come up with something that is fair for all students at all schools, ideally on a district-wide basis.
“I would like dress codes to be gender-neutral, be inclusive … positive,” she adds.