An online petition originating from the East Bay suggests Pleasanton’s Foothill High School discriminates against female students with its dress code policy.
The petition, which was launched on Change.org, is authored by Sanam Nawim, a student at Foothill. Nawim takes issue with what she calls “a sexist dress code that bans girls from wearing clothing that shows undergarments or is “shorter than reasonable length.”
Nawim suggests that she and her female peers have been disciplined for what they wear because their clothing distracts their male peers.
So far, more than 1,177 people have thrown their support behind the petition online.
Nicole Steward, the coordinator of communication and community engagement for Pleasanton Unified School District, says that neither the district nor Foothill were aware of this petition before being contacted by NBC Bay Area.
Steward explained that Foothill’s dress code policy is fairly standard for a high school and that it's also common for the district to receive complaints about what students are allowed to wear to school.
While the petition comes as a surprise to the district, they’re open to talking with students about the dress code and making changes.
“I have to appreciate the feminism in the petition” Stewart added, "and we do like that the students are exercising their rights to free speech, we think that’s important. So it’s not a problem that students want to change the dress code, we just could have liked to know about it before now.”
But does PUSD think the policy is sexist?
“No I don’t believe so,” Steward said.
“I do believe,” Steward added,”that when it gets hotter, the weather gets uncomfortable and girls want to wear spaghetti straps. I do understand that.”
The goal of Foothill's dress code policy is to be gender neutral and to prevent both men and women from having their undergarments showing on school premises, she said. Steward also explained that district officials regularly review the dress code policy and are open to changing the wording of the rules.
“Maybe if we reworded the policy to just say, 'no undergarments can show on school premises,' instead of pointing out specific articles of clothing, the policy wouldn’t seem so gender specific,” she said.
The clash between personal preferences and high school dress codes is not new and plays out at schools all over. Foothill’s policy takes a commonly used approach of aiming to be gender neutral to build a comfortable learning environment for all students.
But Kate Crawford, a sophomore at Foothill says that it’s not the dress codes, but the enforcement that causes a problem. Crawford believes that women’s clothing choices are regulated much more strictly on campus than men’s are.
“Our school staff is just too strict, “Crawford says, “If your bra strap is showing and is not hidden from your tank top then they will stop you, take you out of class, walk you to the office, and administer a dress code violation. They are cutting our education time to tell girls that our bra straps are distracting to our male peers.”
Crawford knows the student who started the petition and she says that every female student she’s talked to this week agrees with the petition.
“Our district and administration is to blame for this mess,” Crawford said. “I don't believe that the district will take it seriously because they brush the students off like its nothing.”
Steward hopes to prove Crawford wrong. Steward and the district also note that some of the punishments listed in the online petition aren’t factual. The petition claims Foothill uses character lessons as discipline for dress code violations, which Steward says is untrue.
Foothill’s principal has told the district that no students in recent history have gone to detention for dress code violations and that the school doesn't have a "characteristics traits" program specific for dress code violators. Students caught wearing clothes that violate school standards are typically given a verbal warning and an opportunity to change their clothes, Steward said. Additionally, the district notes that according to their records, the student who wrote the petition has never been disciplined for violating the dress code, or anything else for that matter.
Steward encouraged students who feel strongly about school dress policies to bring up the rules at an upcoming school board meeting or with a principal. She explained that the student who launched the online petition had not been in touch with Foothill's principal about her opposition to the dress code.