Portland Public Schools students return to new dress code

Sophia Carlson (left) stands with her mother, Rachel, and discusses Portland Public Schools' new dress code that is gender neutral. The outfit that she is wearing would have violated the district's dress code under the old rules, but it's OK now. (KATU Photo)

When Portland Public Schools students return to class Monday they may notice a big change, because they can pretty much wear whatever they want – barring hate speech or anything that reveals private parts.

The new dress code is pretty basic and it’s designed to protect mostly girls who were constantly getting in trouble.

Sophia Carlson says what she wears is “pretty casual,” but her leggings, t-shirt and sweatshirt were apparently too revealing for school.

But her outfit is now Portland Public Schools approved due to a change in the dress code.

“Girls were being pulled out of class for something as simple as bra straps or shorts’ lengths, and it would sometimes be in front of other classmates, which is body and shaming and embarrassing,” Carlson said.

So she and her friends alerted the school board to their concerns in spring of 2015.

“I’m an eighth-grader at Irvington school, and I’m here to inform you about the double standards and body shaming that is occurring, which teachers and staff unfortunately seem to be missing,” Hailey Tjensvold told school board members at the time.

“We wanted it to really just – like I said – support students, because there’s no need to be policing girls’ bodies, especially,” Carlson said.

The old language pointed to female bodies. Carlson especially disliked the words, “sexually suggestive” and “interfere” and “disrupt.”

“This is not what we want to be saying,” Carlson said. “We don’t want to be saying it’s your fault for distracting somebody. We don’t want to set up victim blaming and hyper-sexualization of young girls. So it was really important to change that.”

Parents rallied around the kids.

“It is lopsided,” said Marisha Childs, whose kindergartner’s outfit violated the dress code. “I mean when girls are losing classroom time, when girls are sitting in the office crying because a parent has to be called to come bring them something.”

“They’re creating that self-esteem, and they’re so fragile, and to have it knocked down by the institution that should support them and educating them, it’s pretty hard to believe we’re still doing it. It’s just, it’s long overdue,” Carlson’s mother, Rachel said.

The new code bans anything depicting or advocating violence, criminal activity, alcohol or drug use, pornography or hate speech; but it’s all gender neutral.

After a year of a committee crafting the language, the school board approved the new code.

Carlson hopes other school districts will take notice of their hard work.

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