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360: Are dress codes in Colorado schools sexist, or do they reduce distractions in an educational environment?

Female clothing often mentioned in policies
Teen girls clothing store
Posted at 9:07 AM, May 21, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-21 16:54:45-04

Editor's Note: Denver7 360 stories explore multiple sides of the topics that matter most to Coloradans, bringing in different perspectives so you can make up your own mind about the issues. To comment on this or other 360 stories, email us at 360@TheDenverChannel.com. See more 360 stories here.

Getting dressed in the morning can be fun, but for teenagers it often requires asking themselves if their clothing follows their school’s dress code. Many policies in schools seem to be particularly concerned with female attire, prompting Denver7 to take a 360 look at dress codes.

Parker mom Tiffany Lynch wasn’t too worried when her 6th grader Jasmine left the house recently in a short tank top and leggings, but Jasmine ended up getting sent to the office. Her school’s policy specifically bans crop tops.

I don’t understand how some teachers think the stomach is a distraction in class, since you’re mostly sitting down and can’t see anything,” Jasmine said.

Her mom was upset that Jasmine was embarrassed by being singled out, and lost time in class.

“We’re teaching these girls you’re not worthy enough of an education for that day because of what you’re wearing,” she said.

Lynch also noted that stores are selling this type of clothing to kids.

Highlands Ranch mom Heather Dean has also noticed this trend while shopping.

“There are stores we go in and we just walk right out because it’s just not appropriate,” Dean said.

That’s why Dean loves her school’s uniforms. Uniforms have actually grown in popularity. According to the national center for education statistics, 12% of public schools required them in 1999-2000. That went up to 20% of schools by 2017-2018.

SkyView Academy in Highlands Ranch has uniforms for its preschool through 8th graders, as well as a dress code for high school students.

Head of Schools Janet Worley said it’s about the right time and place.

“If you’re working out at a gym, maybe you're going to wear a different outfit than you would maybe wear to school,” Worley said.

Once a month, SkyView high school students are required to wear interview-appropriate attire to practice for the professional world. The school just revisited the dress code policy in a board meeting Wednesday.

“I do have a proposal for some adjustments to our high school dress code policy to make sure that we are maintaining our vision and mission, but we're also trending with the times and allowing students some freedom,” Worley said.

Anna Ropp, a professor of psychological sciences at Metropolitan State University of Denver, questions why dress codes exist in the first place. She says policies are often blatantly about girls’ clothing and bodies and may be unevenly applied to girls with different body types.

“That's another area where we can see that the dress codes are really about how girls are sexualized,” Ropp said.

Ropp added that rather than worrying about dress codes, she’d like to see schools teach students about consent, bullying and victim-blaming.

As the mothers of daughters, Tiffany Lynch and Heather Dean said they want the girls to be confident, even if they don’t agree on what that means for their clothes. Dean said while they’re a modest family, she allows her daughters to express their personalities. Lynch said if her daughter feels comfortable in her clothes, she’s happy.