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House of Representatives
Session of 2021 - 2022 Regular Session


Posted: March 11, 2021 04:26 PM
From: Representative Tim Briggs
To: All House members
Subject: Implicit Bias and School Dress Codes
During the last year, many of us have spent more time with our families.  For me, this time has allowed me to engage in deeper conversations with my children regarding issues important to them.  Living with a house full of young women, the conversations have led me to a deeper understanding of how my daughters view the world.    These conversations with my middle schoolers have included topics like school dress codes and with my college age children we have long been discussing issues like sexual assault on college campuses, and how these two issues could intersect. 
 To be honest, I used to believe that school dress codes were a viable tool that schools used to create a more structured learning environment.  But now, after being encouraged by my kids and others to expand my views of these issues, I now realize that the value judgments used to create these school dress codes often create an oppressive and discriminatory framework that can further marginalize individuals and groups.  
Over the years, I have heard of stories about kindergarten students being told that they could not wear a ballerina dress to school, or older students being told that they had to cover up or go home because they were wearing shirts with spaghetti straps, or graduating seniors being forced to wear the requisite color gowns at their graduation based on their gender.  To me, these practices have always seemed unfair, but after this ongoing dialogue with my family, I now realize they were not only wrong, but they also perpetuated a culture of sexual violence that may follow students on to our college campuses and into adulthood.  
 And it goes beyond sexualized violence. The concept of dress codes in general are so entangled in systems of oppression and violence, that constructing and enforcing them can seriously risk promoting racism, classism, and other forms of oppression.  Most of us have also heard of schools prohibiting “gang attire” as code for certain clothing worn by young people of color, or black youth being prohibited from wearing certain hairstyles associated with black cultures, or targeting trans and queer students who wear clothes that are deemed “unsuitable” for their assumed/perceived/assigned gender. 
When school administrators tell students to dress a certain way so they do not “distract” others, they may be shaming students, prioritizing one gender’s education over another, sexualizing their bodies, and perpetuating the assumption that “boys cannot control themselves.”

It is my belief that we are not debating clothing, but the entitlement or privilege of certain cultures, body types and genders.  We are also failing to educate our young people about the importance of consent and respecting the boundaries of others who are not like them.  I recognize that school districts have the authority to address school attire, but it is my desire that they do so under a broader societal and gender-based lens.

As such, I plan to draft legislation to require public school entities and their administrators, teachers, nurses, and other staff to receive implicit bias and cultural awareness training and that current policies and practices be revisited to reflect this training. i really think that to address societal issues they need to begin in the classroom.