Out of Code

June 1, 2021

For more than a year, the content of American School & university has focused overwhelmingly on how education institutions have dealt with Covid-19. This issue is no exception.

But there are plenty of things happening in schools that may not be as momentous, yet still offer some perspective on where people’s priorities are.

I’m talking about dress codes. Incident one: Bartram Trail High School in St. Johns County, Fla., digitally altered the yearbook photos of 80 female students to cover up parts of their chests or shoulders after a yearbook adviser decided the photos showed too much skin and violated the student code of conduct. Students and parents objected to the changes, and the story attracted national attention.

Incident two: A Texas school district has adopted a new dress code that eliminates the distinction between boys and girls in policies related to wearing makeup, nail polish, jewelry or piercings. The Clyde school board approved the revised code after hundreds of thousands of people signed a petition protesting the decision to suspend a male high school student for wearing nail polish at school and refusing to remove it.

As someone who either had to wear a uniform or was subject to a strict dress and grooming code for 12 years of Catholic school attendance, I had plenty of experience with the push and pull of how seriously some schools enforced these rules, and how diligently I would try to bend them without breaking them.

In seventh grade, I was ordered by a teacher to remove a black armband and peace sign from my otherwise regulation uniform shirt; the next year, a different teacher directed me to change my pants when I went home for lunch because the color, kind of a tan, was a few shades too light. It wasn’t clear if the color was hurting my ability to learn, or if the pants were so bright that they were distracting the other students from their lessons.

In my sophomore year in high school, the dean of students ambushed me in the cafeteria with a grim expression like one of those process servers you see on Law and Order: He had a letter that I was to deliver to my parents, and it stated in no uncertain terms that I was at risk of suspension unless…I did something about my hair. (Later I was told that although plenty of other boys had longer hair, I was targeted because mine was especially unkempt.)

All these years later, I wonder why my fashion choices mattered so much to those teachers, and why I was so compelled to challenge them.

[mike kennedy signature]



This summer, American School & University magazine will assemble a panel of education and architectural professionals to judge the 39th annual Architectural Portfolio, the industry’s most recognized awards program for education design excellence

Selected projects will be published in the 2021 Architectural Portfolio issue this November – showcasing the best in education design. We invite you to include your latest outstanding education facility.

Visit https://schooldesigns.com/architectural-portfolio/ to enter or for more information about the competition and new 2021 entry benefits.

Don’t delay! Submission materials are due July 19; judging starts late August.

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