Black girls in D.C. lose out on the chance to learn simply because of what they wear. Students are removed from the classroom and even sent home, often illegally, for violating strict dress codes. These rules aren’t neutral: many target girls, and especially Black girls, by regulating skirt length and headwraps. And the rules aren’t applied equally, either. Students report that Black girls, and especially curvier students, are disproportionately targeted. Disturbingly, schools tell girls they must change in order to avoid “distracting” their male classmates — or to avoid being sexually harassed. These punishments interrupt girls’ educations while sending dangerous messages to the school community: how a girl looks is more important than what she thinks, and girls are ultimately responsible for the misbehavior of boys.
In DRESS CODED: Black Girls, Bodies, and Bias in D.C. Schools, the National Women’s Law Center and 21 Black girls who live and learn in D.C. expose common problems with D.C. dress codes, discusses their impact on students, and propose better policies.
The good news is that our co-authors have great ideas about how schools can do better. In the report, readers will find a checklist for schools and policy recommendations for school leaders, district leaders, and local government.