SRHS Dress Code Debate Shifts From “Policing Bodies”


Caleigh Urban, Contributor

Imagine walking into class wearing the brand new tank top you got over the weekend. You might have struggled to gain the confidence to wear it, but you ignored the voice in your head that told you that you looked big and wore it anyway. As you sit down in your seat, your teacher meets you at your desk and tells you to go to the office to find something else to wear. When you ask why, they reply with, “Because you’re distracting the other students.” For the rest of the day, you are forced to walk around school wearing a PE shirt, receiving even more judgmental looks than before

The dress code has been an issue in the educational system for a long time. However, slowly but surely, the focus has begun to shift from what is considered unprofessional, revealing clothing to gang apparel that is said to promote bad decision-making.

At San Rafael High School, this change in policy has left students and staff confounded, as the guidelines have been quickly modified to fit new and improved expectations and standards.

New principal Joe Dominguez said, “When I came in, I said that we are not going to police girls’ bodies and say what they can and can’t wear based on what makes us feel comfortable or not comfortable […] we enforce rules for the sake of enforcing rules and I don’t like that.”

Sophie Loder, a senior at San Rafael High School, stated that she believes “[…] the dress code is slightly biased towards girls.” Sophie has been dress coded multiple times, but she has never been told by a fellow student that what she was wearing was distracting. When asked if she thought the dress code policies had changed, she agreed that it has become a lot less strict and that she has noticed a shift in focus.

Hannah Deochoa, another senior at SR, said that, “I still think that girls are being targeted by the dress code, but I think there is more attention going to the kids who live in the Canal since there is more of a gang presence.”

For many young women nowadays, wearing clothing that shows their figure or skin is less so an attempt to attract attention, and more of a way to express confidence and feel good about themselves. In an article from Planned Parenthood, the dress code is described as a “box” that alienates people who choose to stay outside of it. The author, Haley Hartnett, goes on to explain that the rules and lessons that dress codes enforce are doing more harm than good, as they result in young women developing mental health issues such as eating disorders and anxiety. 

For those who choose to wear gang- and drug-affiliated apparel, their desire might sprout from a need to “be cool” or rebellious. While it doesn’t seem very dangerous or realistic because of their age, there is the possibility that some teens who choose to wear these clothes are active members of gangs. This remains a major issue outside of San Rafael and outside of California.

Daniel Allen is a US History teacher who has worked at SR for 18 years. Prior to SR, Mr. Allen worked at Richmond High School. During his time there, the dress code was concentrated on limiting gang apparel, mainly because Richmond has a considerable reputation for crime and gang violence that the school did not want to support. Allen expressed that he thinks it is a good idea to be strict about gang apparel and that it is important to maintain a safe campus.

Dominguez added, “Whatever our personal opinions are around those companies, we have to recognize that we are still running a campus with teenagers. We have to make sure that the clothing is not promoting anything that is illegal for their nature.” 

When it comes to dress codes, every individual has a different viewpoint on how and where it should be implemented. Professionalism and free expression are themes that remain against each other in this dispute, but how is there a way to know which is better to shape the growing minds of adolescents; that too is something that relies on opinion.

“I think that the focus on cookie/drug/gang apparel lies with the goal of the dress code promoting school and community safety and wellness,” said Gwen Pikkarainen, a well-known science teacher at SR. “While promoting academic professionalism seems like a good goal as well, the management of revealing clothing is layered and maybe more complicated.”