Some students and their families from the Wood Street Centre school in downtown Whitehorse protested against their school’s dress code and how it is being enforced outside the Yukon Legislature on March 7.
About a dozen students and family members gathered with signs in front of the legislature calling for changes to the dress code on March 7, the first official day of spring break. A petition calling for the changes was also available for supporters to sign.
Solidarity in crop tops
A few of the protesters wore crop tops for the “Crop Top Solidarity for student safety and dignity at school” rally.
The protest and petition come after concerns brought to the school’s administration did not seem to result in any changes, according to Krista Reid, whose daughter Lahela Reid attends the school.
Concerns were moved up the chain to the school’s superintendent and government officials, with Krista receiving an email during the protest, stating efforts would be made after spring break to address the concerns.
Lahela said she hopes the demonstration and petition will result in changes.
Under the current dress code, if administration deems clothes to be too revealing or inappropriate, they can ask students to change into appropriate wear if it’s available or go home to change. Students unable to meet the dress code will have their families contacted to address the situation.
Lahela said she was surprised when teachers at the school began asking her to change what she was wearing. She also soon learned that its been an issue for a number of current and former students.
She also noticed it seemed not every student was asked to alter their attire.
As Krista put it, “Only those of certain body types were being targeted — female, voluptuous body types.”
Krista said her daughter felt like she was being shamed, publicly and privately.
“It started to affect her feeling safe,” Krista said, going on to argue that the enforced dress code is outdated.
“We need to be doing better to support the acknowledgement that women have the right to their own bodies,” she said.
Lahela said she has been pleased that others have signed the petition and came out to the March 7 demonstration.
“I’m really happy with the support,” the Grade 11 music, arts and drama student said of the solidarity she’s seen.
Bringing concerns forward
Krista said while efforts were made by students to deal with school administration, the students did not feel like their statements were heard, and their concerns were not addressed.
“It was never meant to be an us and them thing; it was never meant to be a blame game,” she said.
When she spoke directly to the principal, Krista noted how proud school staff should be of the students in showing they can advocate for themselves and present their positions.
The policy, families were informed, can’t be changed at the school level.
“It has to go through the superintendent and then the ADM [assistant deputy minister] and the DM [deputy minister] and the minister’s office,” Krista said.
While Krista has heard a lot of support for the petition and protest, she’s also heard from some who are scared to show support, given they will be attending the school until June.
The petition calls for a review of the policy over dress codes in schools. It will be delivered to the Yukon government soon.
In an emailed statement, Education spokesperson Erin Scott emphasized the department will be working with students, staff and parents to address the concerns.
“All staff and students have a right to be safe, feel welcome and respected at school, and to learn in an environment that is free from any form of discrimination or sexism,” she said. “We have heard the voices of the students and parents in the MAD [music, arts and drama] program at Wood Street School and want to assure them that we are taking the voiced concerns seriously.”
The superintendent and principal at the school will work collaboratively with students and staff to update the current rules “to ensure it reflects the shared perspectives of both parties,” Scott said, adding that work will get underway after March break.
“The Department of Education, as per the Education Act, supports school communities to develop school-specific rules and guidance, to ensure that local level input is reflected within the school rules and guidelines,” Scott stated in her email.
“All updated rules must align with the Safe and Caring Schools Policy. This policy promotes safe, a welcoming and positive space for learning and teaching, which sets clear expectations for students and staff, alike. The Department of Education believes that dress codes must be gender-neutral and uphold environments that are free of sexism and LGBTQ2S+ discrimination.”
Scott went on to note that any students, staff or other members of the school community who have concerns about dress codes can bring them forward to school administration or the superintendent.
“We take these concerns seriously,” she said.
Contact Stephanie Waddell at firstname.lastname@example.org