Halifax School Imposes Discriminatory Dress Code on Female Students

A public junior high school has banned students from wearing leggings as pants. Did they go too far?

Photography from iStockphoto.com

When I was in grade eight, I was sent home from school for wearing a Bon Jovi concert t-shirt that shouted, in big, bold letters, “We’re Back Kickin Ass.” Outraged as I acted upon my dismissal, the truth, of course, was that I knew the t-shirt was inflammatory and inappropriate. So I went home, changed, and enjoyed my newfound popularity as a rebel for the rest of the year. But I hated school dress codes as a student, and I don’t feel much better about them now, as a parent. I wonder just where a public institution that minors are by law forced to attend, get the power to also dictate what those minors must wear.

This week, a Halifax public junior high school has banned students from wearing leggings as pants. Yoga pants, they state, fall into a grey area. This means that unless the tops the students are wearing fall long enough to cover their “front and backside,” magically transforming the (unacceptable) leggings into (acceptable) tights, then they are inappropriate—and the student will, presumably, be sent home to change or punished in some other way. Among the reasons that the school gives for this change to the dress code so late in the school year is that the leggings are “distracting.”

Distracting to what or whom, exactly?

Well, distracting to the learning process, the school claims. A claim so threadbare that it is certainly more offensive and revealing than a pair of leggings on a 14-year-old girl. Until the school can provide research and proof that girls who do not wear leggings perform better than girls who do wear leggings, I’m not buying it.

The real answer, I think, is distracting to the boys. Possibly even the male teachers. That seems a more likely answer to me. And a much more disturbing one.

It is the same argument that fundamentalists the world over use to keep their women covered up and devoid of personal choice or freedoms. It is the same argument used by pseudo-feminists like Camille Paglia, who claim that women that dare to tempt boys get what they deserve. It’s not a leap—who exactly gets punished when the boys are distracted at Eastern Passage Education Centre in Halifax? The girls.

I may not be a fan of leggings—any more so than I am a fan of the poseur hip-hop underwear-hanging-out look that the female students say the boys are still allowed to sport (a boy’s ass being so much less distracting than a girl’s), but I am much less a fan of misogyny, dictatorship, fundamentalism, and discrimination. And those things, of course, are much, much harder to cover up.

Do you think that schools should be allowed to ban leggings? Are female students being treated unfairly?

Karen Green recently traded life in the biggest city in Canada for life in the biggest cornfield in Canada. Freed from her full-time job as a writer and editor, Karen now spends her time…writing and editing. And frolicking in the leaves with her two small girls. Karen is a speaker, the founder of Mom The Vote and the author of the blog, The Kids Are Alright, where she has been writing about the humorous and poignant moments of family life since 2005. She is thrilled to be a part of canadianfamily.ca.

17 responses to “Halifax School Imposes Discriminatory Dress Code on Female Students”

  1. Courtney says:

    Good for the school. There should be lots of clothes banned. I am tired of young children seeing the older ones barely weari g weari g anything. It is high time that all schools ban things like low cut jeans that show girls underwear. I hope that when my daughter is tbat age she has common sense.

  2. My 8 yr old would be pantsless if there were no leggings. She has no butt and no waist and no hips and we have yet to find pants that stay up on her..the leggings have been the closest we could come to keeper her ass crack at bay. This ban would leave us in a pickle

  3. Lu says:

    I just found out that the public school in my district has a uniform policy. I”m very anti-uniform, but don’t know how to find out what my other school options are.

  4. andrea tomkins says:

    Hmm. I see your point Karen, but I have to respectfully disagree. School is not home, or a beach, or a playground.

    I saw your tweet just now. You said “because work is a place you go contractually, get paid and have agreed to a certain set of rules. this was foisted on kids..” I’d argue that school is “work” for kids. The school environment requires some discipline, some respect for elders and peers, and some rules. Without rules there is chaos. Can it be argued that the way kids are taught to behave at school prepares them for the world of work? You can argue that conformity is bad, individuality is good, but the fact remains that there are still “rules” that need to be followed in the real world.

    The problem regarding wardrobe choices is that there has to be a line drawn somewhere.

    Should kids be allowed to go to school topless? (Ridiculous but bear with me) No.
    Should kids be allowed to wear bathing suits? No.

    Now here’s where the fuzzy lines start to be drawn.

    If kids can’t wear bathing suits, should girls be able to wear tube tops? Probably not. What about spaghetti straps? Plunging necklines? Super short shorts? It’s not appropriate to wear those things to the office, why should it be allowed to be worn to school?

    And what about gang colours? Should kids be allowed to wear those too? I say no. Although I don’t necessarily agree with the idea that banning leggings is about distraction, I think that school should be a place of learning and respect. And that means a certain way of dressing.

  5. laney says:

    they did this to us when i was in a public elementary school with the trend of wearing spaghetti strap tank tops on hot summer days. they said they were distracting to the boys and our argument was then the boys are the one with the problem! reprimand them for not focusing on their work! obviously this did not fly and our tank top straps had to be checked, needed to be two fingers wide.. might as well just wear a t-shirt! after much arguing from parents they won of course and i can see both sides of the argument, but i must say some shoulders out on a hot summer day is far more appropriate than the way some kids wear leggings! they might as well be walking around with just nylons on and they are showing parts of their bodies that most certainly need to be covered up… i think that wearing a longer shirt over them is a great compromise!

  6. allison says:

    Interesting perspective. I admit I hadn’t thought about it from the perspective of ‘covering up the girls so the weak-minded males won’t be distracted’; for this reason I was pretty much in favour of the rule to wear a long shirt over leggings. However, our school gets hot as hell in the summer and although there IS a rule on the books (in the agenda) that spaghetti straps shouldn’t be worn, I send my daughter in sundresses all the time because if they’re not going to take steps to cool the place down reasonably then I say she doesn’t have to wear sleeves. Is it your position that it should be parents who monitor the scank level of girls’ clothing, or that they should be able to wear it? Because I would have some reservations about that. I don’t really agree that school is ‘work’ for kids. This is why I will let my kids miss school for reasons other than sickness and why I let them dye their hair purple without a second thought, whereas for work we would probably think twice. So yeah – here I am, wishy-washy as usual.

  7. Kristy says:

    I agree that it’s pretty ridiculous. There are jeans out there that are just as tight as pants. And many adults wear leggings to the office. But I highly doubt that the decision was made because male teachers, like my husband, get distracted by girls wearing leggings. That’s pretty disgusting – they are children. I suspect it’s more about trying to lay a foundation for girls and boys to learn what is appropriate and how to respect yourself and your body – they just took it a little too far this time.

  8. Kristy says:

    *just as tight as leggings” – I meant to say..

  9. I was at my daughter’s elementary school this past week, just outside of Vancouver. A teacher was wearing tights as pants.
    She bent over outside and I got a full view of her striped ginch. Why can’t people realize that if your tights stretch and become see-through on your knees when they bend, the likelihood is that they’re doing so on your butt too.

    Who does that distract? Well, it may not bother the five year olds or six year olds… But it sure as hell distracts me. Seems like every time I look up from my computer in a coffee shop or from my buggy in a grocery store, someone else’s camel toe is hanging out.
    Leggings as pants the same as jeans? HA! That’s laughable. If you’re going to wear tight jeans, at least the seams hide some of the complete definition of your intimate areas. The two aren’t comparable. Two years ago I wrote a blog PSA about how “tights are not pants”. They weren’t then, and they aren’t now. Even in the 80’s, the first time around with the skinny leg fad, most people had the common courtesy to wear a tunic or a long dress. A sweater dress is perfect for wearing with leggings. It’s cute and sexy and fun.
    Wearing a tanktop with leggings so tight we can make out your private parts? It’s not becoming, and I don’t know why any woman would want to do it.. let alone let little girls do it.
    If parents aren’t going to take the initiative to ensure their children are properly dressed, I guess the faculty has to.

    I never understood how “dress codes” in schools take things too far. There are plenty of workplaces where dress codes are enforced. Are these employers taking things too far by upholding their own ideals for business practice? How is banning leggings for 6 hours a day while a kid is at school different from lip piercings being banned for staff in a government office for 8 hours?

  10. Shelagh says:

    I totally think that schools should be allowed to dictate what the students are allowed to wear. Today’s so-called “fashions” are ridiculous. The only reason that these rules seem to single out the girls is because society/media/fashion today tells girls that to look good, you have to show off every inch of your skin/wear tight clothing, etc. It is totally possible to look good without showing the world every single curve you have (and let’s face it, some girls have “curves” they really need to hide). The local Catholic High School here has begun enforcing (note, this is NOT a new rule, they are just now enforcing it) a rule that says that if girls want to wear tight pants like leggins or yoga pants, they must wear a long shirt over it that hides their butt. The local teenagers were all up in arms over this. Some saying that if they couldn’t wear yoga pants then they wouldn’t have any pants to wear at all. Give me a break! There are tons of stylish pants out there that can show off your figure without showing everyone your camel-toe!

    So, yes. I think this school is in the right to dictate what the students wear. The students are not forced to go there. And regardless of it being the law that kids have to go to school, they do not have to GO to school. They have to be schooled. There is always the option of home-schooling (not always an option for everyone), or sending your child to a different school.

    And all that being said, I do think that boys should wear pants that don’t show their underwear. Every time I see a boy with his pants hanging down below his bum with his boxers showing, I want to run up and pull his pants up. Wear a belt!

  11. Allison T says:

    I, as a mother of boys, don’t understand why mothers of girls seem to think leggings are acceptable as a pants substitute. I have a number of friends who dress their daughters in tank tops or t-shirts with leggings on the bottom. I think it’s inappropriate at any age. A tunic or dress over leggings is acceptable but leggings are NOT pants!

  12. Shelly Shim says:

    Actually it says leggings are allowed as long as the top is long enough to cover the back and front. What is wrong with that?

  13. Broken Syntax says:

    Same thoughts that came to my mind when I read the one sentence blip on CP24’s marquee. Two key points you touched that bother me on this subject: Male Teachers? I imagine the boys wouldn’t bring the distraction to the attention of the administration, and certainly wouldn’t ask for anything to be done about it.

    The second, Male attire. I still walk past the local high-school fairly often, I may be above high-school age myself now, but still have many friends who have yet to graduate. People of the young-and-extremely-gifted variety. Without fail I see dozens of boy still wearing their pants around their knees, how is this more acceptable than leggings? Not only is it ‘revealing’ but it’s a trip and fall hazard (see your health and safety manual.)!

  14. felicia says:

    it bothers me because we can’t use any kind of clothing because they say thats inapropriaght GOSH!!!hate this school… rules

  15. Unavailable says:

    i don’t think that ANY girls should “hide” anything. all girls are beautiful in their own way. looks aren’t everything.

  16. jayne190 says:

    Buy a few pairs of jeans and don’t buy her leggings. Tell her that she is going to wear what you buy and don’t give into what she wants. How hard is that?

  17. jayne190 says:

    I don’t know how old you are, but leggings aren’t pants. They are fine for weekends and after school, but not for going to school and honestly as a parent, you have the control on the purse strings and what is worn until your child is old enough to buy their own clothes. If they are wearing the leggings with a skirt or a long shirt/sweater, as that covers any chance of seeing one’s butt crack or panty lines (I see lots of little girls who wear leggings with a regular shirt and really don’t like it and if I had young kids, especially young girls, I would not be buying them leggings, but would buy them jeans. Leggings can get ripped more easily and don’t really last long, where as jeans last longer due to the sturdy material and hide stains way better). Remember that school is your child’s work place and most workplaces wouldn’t want you wearing a pair of leggings anyways.