New AISD dress code aims for equity

Relaxed rules permit students more freedom, flexibility; hats, hoodies, tank tops allowed


Samantha Powers

Students aren’t supposed to expose their midriff, but other than that, the new dress code allows students greater flexibility to wear what they want to wear. Photo by Samantha Powers.

Samantha Powers

Students from all over Austin come to McCallum for the Fine Arts Academy, giving the school a reputation as a safe place for students to be free to express themselves. One way students display their individuality is through their clothes. In the past, students, such as sophomore Carden Arellano, have felt that the AISD Dress Code was difficult to follow and limited their expression.

“If you want to find a truly appropriate shirt that truly fits the dress code, you’re going to have to take the time out of your day to make it yourself, or go to a lot of effort to find one,” she said.

Fortunately for students like Arellano, the AISD Board of Trustees updated the dress code on June 17 of this year.

The dress code had not been revised since 2007. The possibility of a reform to the code became apparent on May 14, 2019, when an article was posted on the AISD website revealing that a working group was created to revisit the code. The announcement called on AISD students, parents, and teachers to give their input on the dress code through a survey, and the results were overwhelming.

Few restrictions from the old code remain, and the new policy has a focus on putting every student on equal footing, preventing the ostracization of a student for their attire.

“I think that we were much harsher on girls than anyone, and it sexualized what girls were choosing to wear.””

— principal Brandi Hosack

From the AISD website, “School staff shall enforce the dress code consistently and in a manner that does not reinforce or increase marginalization or oppression of any group on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, gender, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, national origin, disability, age, immigration status, or any other basis prohibited by law, that adversely affects the student.”

Certain rules in the old dress code used female pronouns in the written policy, which seemingly directed them toward female students. The dress code this year has amended that by removing any pronouns that indicate gender, and instead it uses the gender-neutral term “students.”

“I know that was one of the deliberate moves that the school district took was that they really wanted to look at the language and to take out any gender biases that were in there,” Assistant Principal Baxa said. “I think they did a better job this time.”

Besides eliminating gender bias in the actual language of the code, there are also new guidelines for enforcement.

The new rules state that “school administration and staff shall not have discretion to vary the requirements in ways that lead to discriminatory enforcement.” Staff is also prohibited from “shaming” students about the clothes they are wearing. AISD staff members are encouraged to make sure they are practicing equitable enforcement that maintains the dignity and comfort of the student.

“They even tell us to be mindful of the potential negative side effects of the conversations and the comments that we make,” Baxa said.

It was apparent to many students and staff members at McCallum that the old dress code was disproportionately applied to certain groups.

“I think that the old dress code was certainly geared more towards coming down on females,” Hosack said. “I think that we were much harsher on girls than anyone, and it sexualized what girls were choosing to wear.”

Last year, it was against the rules for a girl to wear a tank top, show her bra straps, or wear shorts of a certain length. To prevent the enforcement of these rules the district put forth a guiding principle: “The student dress code should serve to support all students to develop a body-positive self-image.”

McCallum students are enjoying the new, more flexible dress code. Junior Helena Laing remarks, “kids now have more freedom for what they’re wearing.” Hats, hoodies, and tank tops are making appearances this year in the McCallum hallways. Students feel a sense of security that their choices for their own clothing are acceptable and appropriate. Sophomore Ryan Honza observes, “I just feel like the dress code this year gives people reassurance that what they’re doing is okay.”

“Self-expression in high school is so important because it changes every year””

— junior Helena Laing

There is one obvious rule that is receiving resistance from the student body. “One of the things that I’m seeing that students are pushing back on a little bit is the midriff thing. You’re not supposed to show your midriff. We haven’t necessarily been true enforcers of that,” principal Hosack concedes. Many of the students interviewed mentioned their distaste for this residual regulation.

On the rule, sophomore Caitlin Mitchell predicts, “if it were to start being a really mandatory regulation within Mac, it would highly change how a lot of the students dress and express themselves.”

A prospect that excites the students about this new dress code is that the rules allow for more freedom in self-expression. It’s no secret that the McCallum student body encompasses a diverse group of kids who each bring something unique to the table. This melting pot of personalities, talents, and backgrounds makes for a stronger school. The freedom students enjoy to dress as they please reinforces a vitality that is unique to McCallum.

Principal Hosack explains, “We go to an artistic school, you guys are a super eclectic group of kids, and I love that. I would never want to box you into something… I like that you guys get to express yourselves via the clothing that you’re wearing.”

Junior Helena Laing comments, “self-expression in high school is so important because it changes every year… it’s kind of a stamp of, ‘This is who I am.’”

McCallum vice-principal Andy Baxa remarks, “there’s a huge difference in the code from last year to this year.” On the relaxation of the new dress code, he comments, “As long as you adhere to those three guiding principles [in the dress code], you find that you have a lot of options, a lot of flexibility, to wear what you want to wear.”

The new dress code will go a long way toward supporting equitable education access in the school district, and the newfound freedom that students have in their wardrobe choices will surely allow the McCallum student body to flourish.

Kate Boyle
Sophomore Matthew Wilson poses for a photo on Crazy Hat Day. The new AISD dress code now allows students to wear hats every day.