Legislation Would Bring Equity to School Dress Codes

Jan 23, 2020

The debate over what students can and cannot wear in school is an ongoing point of contention in Virginia.

This year, Delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy has proposed a bill that she says would level the playing field for girls and students of color.

As it is now, dress codes in schools across Virginia don’t always respect racial and gender differences.  Delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy says punitive policies push students out of schools.  "So you see stories across the Commonwealth and across the country of little African-American boys being forced to cut their dreads because it’s being deemed unkempt."

Delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy
Credit Virginia General Assembly

Carroll Foy has proposed legislation that would protect students from punishment for wearing religiously, ethnically or culturally specific head coverings and hairstyles. Her Dress Code Equity Act would also require rules about appearance to be gender-neutral and avoid terms like “inappropriate.”  "It’s very subjective," Carroll Foy notes.  "And who gets to decide what’s appropriate and what’s inappropriate?"

The Richmond Public School Board passed a similar measure in 2019. Meanwhile, Franklin County, in the western part of the state, took a different direction last week, when school board members voted against banning clothing that includes the Confederate flag. 

For now, Carroll Foy’s equity bill awaits its fate in a House subcommittee.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.