Bob Esliger, Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools’ assistant superintendent, makes a presentation to the district education committee on school attire expectations on Feb. 6. (KARL YU/News Bulletin)

Nanaimo-Ladysmith school district updates student dress code guidelines

New administrative procedure discussed

Updated dress code guidelines for Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools will seek to educate rather than shame students.

The school district introduced its Student Dress Code Policy in 2001 which defined appropriate dress as free of references to objectionable material i.e. alcohol, illicit substances, gangs, discriminatory and racist ideologies, sex, swear words and violence. The new student attire expectation administrative procedure still adheres to that, but also seeks to educate without shaming and guide schools as they form their own dress codes and codes of conduct.

Bob Esliger, district assistant superintendent, told trustees at their Feb. 6 education committee meeting that the district sought something that didn’t marginalize any group based on race, sex, gender, gender identity, gender expression, religion, cultural observance, household income and body size or type.

“We wanted to permit students to make their own decisions about attire and that usually causes a gasp in educators, in people who work in schools because, ‘Wow, could you imagine if we left it to kids to come to school with whatever it is they wanted to wear?’ Well, we’re not opening that door,” said Esliger. “This is a joint prospect with parents … however, we do want to seize the moment as an educational moment if the student comes with something that doesn’t fit in with the school’s code of conduct.”

Esliger said there isn’t a “thou shalt not wear” list of certain items of clothing, but rather school codes of conduct. Under the procedure, intervention will be treated as a minor incident. Students will be involved in problem solving, creating plans that comply with expectations and will have opportunities to find respectful alternatives, states the guidelines.

“Teaching school attire expectations through the code of conduct have the effect of increasing personal and social responsibility and a positive school culture,” said Esliger. “We are an educational institution. We teach, so we don’t post a list of rules on the wall and wait for someone to break the rule and then [punish]. That’s what we’re trying to get away from. Let’s get ahead of this, be preventative and we’ll teach the expectation.”

Stephanie Higginson, trustee, expressed concern about use of the word decorum in the administrative procedure. There is always a difference of opinion and she wanted to ensure schools know what is meant by decorum.

“Last year there was an incident in a school, where a young female student came in dressed essentially as what a pop star was wearing in a [popular music video] and her teacher was uncomfortable. Another female teacher was told to talk to her and tell her it was totally inappropriate what she was wearing and asked her to cover up and so when students are receiving one message from pop culture and another message in school, I just want to make sure that we’re really careful on that line and creating a place where that can be addressed,” said Higginson.

The dress code guidelines are considered an administrative procedure and do not need to be adopted by the board.

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