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This school is finally making the dress code the same for boys and girls

July 18, 2019

Dress code debates often end up on parents’ radar when it comes time to begin a new school year, but a school district in Roanoke, Virginia, is looking to make a major change to prevent all the drama this year. The Roanoke County School Board just voted to approve a new gender-neutral dress code that holds boys and girls to the same standards.

Rather than policing the tightness of girls’ shorts or the width of their tank top straps, the new gender-neutral dress code simply specifies that clothing on all students must cover the body from armpit to armpit and go down three to four inches in length on the thigh. Additionally, shoes must be worn at all times and clothing cannot be see-through. Clothes also cannot depict illegal conduct, violence, nudity, hate speech or gang paraphernalia.

Image via Roanoke County Public Schools

Don Butzer, the chairman of the Roanoke County School Board, told Today Style that the new dress code is the most progressive in the state of Virginia, and it came about out of a desire to simplify the rules and make things more equal for girls and boys. Traditionally, girls have been singled out for dress code violations far more often than boys, and many school dress codes unfairly target clothing that is primarily worn by girls.

Girls have been removed from class for everything from wearing shorts that didn’t extend past the lengths of their fingertips — an arbitrary rule that can make finding clothes difficult for girls who are tall or have long arms — to wearing leggings or even thick-strapped racer back tank tops. Even more problematic is the fact that many dress codes are centered on the idea that girls’ clothing is “distracting” to boys at school. In one infamous viral video, an assistant school principal told students they were no longer allowed to wear athletic shorts because some girls’ shorts were too short and “girls ruin everything.”

In the past few years, parents have been noticing and calling out this double standard more and more. Last year, a Florida mayor named Melissa McKinlay publicly denounced her daughter’s school dress code after the girl was removed from class because she had a rip in the knee of her jeans. According to McKinlay, a teacher told her daughter to “consider the guys in her class and their hormones.”

Students are also fighting back by staging protests and speaking out online, and the Roanoke County School Board is not the first to take note. Many schools throughout California, Oregon and Florida have adopted relaxed or gender-neutral dress codes. Today Style reports that around 60% of parents in Roanoke, Virginia, say they approve of the new dress code policy, and it’s also getting praise from parents around the country.

It’s not that parents think their kids should be able to roll up to school barefoot and half naked. Rather, it’s that parents believe every child should have an equal opportunity to learn. When girls are constantly being called out for having shorts that are a quarter-inch “too short,” they’re also missing valuable class time, being forced to focus more on their clothing than their education, and they’re getting the message from schools that they are responsible for how other people (namely, boys) feel about and respond to what they wear. Simplifying dress codes is an attempt by schools to address these inequalities and create uniform guidelines that every student can follow. For many parents, it’s about time.

Read next: Teacher gets brutally honest about why she’s quitting and it’s not for reasons you might think

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