The pros and cons of dress codes for high school students


Dear Adele,

My daughter attends an Ottawa high school where there is a dress code. I am following with interest the CTV news story regarding Ottawa students and parents who are “outraged at humiliating high school dress code blitz” at Beatrice Desloges High School. I know there are pros and cons to dress codes and am wondering how I should handle it with my girl at her school?



Dear Wondering,

Dress codes are common in middle and high school and are designed to provide guidelines for students and parents as to appropriate and suitable dress for students in an educational setting. They typically suggest that clothing cover the body from the shoulder to the mid-thigh in a way that is not sexually explicit or revealing. T-shirts that show racist, sexist, violent, or gang-related messages are usually not approved. Clothing should be clean, appropriate, and not reveal underwear. Many school boards leave it to the individual school to determine community standards and enforce a reasonable dress code.

Fortunately, most students dress in a suitable way for school, and parents use common sense in choosing the clothing they purchase for their children to wear to school.

Wise administrators gather the students at the beginning of the year and go over the expectations for dress, so it is clear to everyone. It is important for teachers and administrators to be respectful of students and handle obvious violators individually and in a discreet and quiet manner.

Much has been written about the pros and cons of a dress code that promotes a serious school environment and stresses academics and good behaviour. An excellent article on this topic was written by Keith Miller and is entitled ‘22 Advantages and Disadvantages of School Dress Codes’. I wrote a column not long ago on the pros and cons of school uniforms which might be of interest to you as well.

If you have concerns that the dress code at your daughter’s school is either too permissive or too strict, why not contact the principal of the school and find out exactly what is expected. As you know, teachers are highly trained professionals and those who advance into the roles of vice principal and principal have vast experience and extensive education in dealing with adolescents. You’re likely to be pleasantly surprised in consultation with them about dress code, that individual choice and creativity opportunities are encouraged within the boundaries of good taste and with a view to preparing adolescents for adulthood and the workforce.

Best wishes, Adele

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