Hamilton school board introduces an updated student dress code

The Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB) is making significant changes to its student dress code amid loud criticisms of the existing dress code’s outdated and problematic guidelines.

The decision comes after a controversy at Waterdown District High School at the beginning of October, in which the school’s administration issued a reminder to students to wear clothing that covers their shoulders and stomachs amid a police investigation of numerous reports of sexual assault and harassment at the school.

The announcement led to protests at the school by students who called out the messaging about student dress codes for perpetuating victim blaming towards survivors of sexual assault and harassment, and singling out traditionally feminine clothing in a sexist double standard.

Student trustees Deema Abel Hafeez and Aisha Mahmoud also put forth a motion at a board meeting on October 18th in response to the incident, calling for an overhaul of existing outdated dress code policies that are rooted in sexism and oppressive ideals.

“We have a responsibility to ensure that our policies do not place blame or undue responsibility on victims of sexual harassment and/or sexual assault,” reads a motion put forth at a board meeting on Monday by Abdel Hafeez and Mahmoud.

The motion was passed by the board, and a new list of student dress code guidelines was published on the HWDSB website on October 20th.

“HWDSB recognizes that we have a responsibility and obligation to provide learning environments that are safe, equitable, welcoming, and inclusive,” reads a release on the board website.

“Decisions about dress reflect individual expression of identity, socio-cultural norms, and economic factors and are personal and important factors to a person’s well-being and health. Students have a right to express themselves.”

The release goes on to point out that many schools in the Hamilton public board may have been “enforcing an outdated dress code in a disproportionate manner that targets female-identified students without considering non-binary views and identities.”

“School dress codes have been written and enforced in ways that disproportionately and negatively impact many students, including those who identify or present as female, those who are racialized, gender diverse, transgender, non-binary, students with disabilities, those who are socioeconomically marginalized and Indigenous, First Nation, Métis, and Inuit students. The new student dress guidelines will use the principles of anti-oppression, anti-racism, anti-colonialism, equity and inclusion.”

Read the new student dress code guidelines on the HWDSB website.

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