'Sexist,' 'Racist,' 'Classist': Georgia 8th Grader Challenges School Dress Code

Sophia Trevino, 13 years old, expresses her disapproval to dress codes by wearing a pro-protest T-shirt to school every Friday in Marietta, Ga., on Aug. 27, 2021. (Audra Melton/The New York Times).
Sophia Trevino was meticulous about choosing her outfit last month, the night before she started eighth grade. With her mother's help, Sophia Trevino went through her closet two hours before bedtime and chose a white Los Angeles T shirt, black distressed jeans, and Air Force 1 sneakers. Sophia, 13 years old, checked with her friends to make sure the outfit was adorable. Her parents did not think twice about it.

However, a Simpson Middle School teacher in Cobb County, Georgia did not consider her outfit appropriate. Sophia was asked to line up with her fellow students when they entered the school to check if her jeans were ripped. It wasn't. It was not. She and 15 other girls were written up prior to the first period.

Sophia and her classmates at Simpson Middle School in north Atlanta have worn T-shirts denouncing dress codes every Friday since. They argue that students should be able to opt out of a dress code they find discriminatory if they are not required to adhere to a public health measure.

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A spokesperson for Cobb County School District stated that their rules regarding student dress encourage students to learn and not focus on what they prefer.

She explained that the student dress code has a minimum dress standard and is meant to be consistent with school formalities.

Sophias school is not the only place where there are conflicts over dress codes. There have been many other similar conflicts in the past, often citing racial and sexual biases embedded into the policies. Houston parents were furious at the guidance of a principal on how to dress to pick their children up from school in 2019. Many felt that it was infected with racism and classism. A Florida teenager was expelled from school for not wearing a bra the year before.

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Todd DeMitchell (a University of New Hampshire professor who researched the litigation of school dress codes) found that the emphasis on covering girls' bodies is contributing to the problem that dress codes are meant to address: the inappropriate sexualization of women students.

The researchers analyzed dress codes in 25 New Hampshire public schools and found that many had policies specifically for girls. These policies included covering breasts, cleavages, collarbones, shoulders, and covering necks. Some of the prohibited garments in school policies, like tank tops or strapless shirts are banned because they are considered too sexy.

According to the study, this theme has a problem because it assigns provocation to female clothing. This means that the purpose of the female dress choices is to draw attention to males.

Sabrina Bernadel is a Fellow at the National Womens Law Center and agrees that dress codes are too restrictive for girls and women.

She stated that dress codes are clearly sexist. Instead of placing the responsibility on girls to be non-distracting or not draw attention to themselves, they placed it on them to respect all students' bodies.

Bernadel stated that students who break dress codes are most often punished by Black and Brown girls. White girls then follow, with Black boys being the next to get punished. The issue for Black girls is not their clothes but their bodies. These girls are often viewed as more mature or adult at an early age.

Short-term, discipline actions that result from being dress coded may lead to reduced instruction time and hinder academic performance. Bernadel stated that code violations can lead to long-term shame in girls, especially Black girls, about how they express themselves as well as their appearance.

Cobb County's up-to-you policy regarding mask wearing is just one of many masking policies. It is up to the local authorities whether masks are necessary in schools. Most school districts that require facial coverings have the policy for all students, regardless of age or vaccination status. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends all school students, teachers, and staff wear masks regardless of their vaccination status.

Cobb County believes that parents are the best qualified to decide whether their child wears masks, but they aren't best equipped to make decisions about what their child wears on their bodies. Sophia submitted a petition to Change.org with over 2,000 signatures.

Sarah Trevino, Sophia's mother and a local lawyer, stated that it is impossible to pick and choose which reasoning was used. You can use the same reasoning to place a piece of cloth on your child's face if you want to do so.

The Simpson Middle School dress code states that all dresses, shorts, and skirts must be at least fingertip length. This means that students must hold their arms straight up so their longest fingers touch the fabric. It also states that no skin should be exposed beyond the fingertip.

Sophia stated that her main problem with the dress code was its tendency to single out girls and make them responsible for the actions of boys.

Sophia stated that boys think they are just drooling on our shoulders. They don't care. They don't care. Even if they do care, it is not their fault. It is their fault.

Cobb County School Districts' website language used to be similar to Simpson Middle School's dress code. The middle school, however, confirmed that it follows the district's rules. The protest attracted media attention and the district appears to have changed the dress code to not mention the fingertip rule. A spokesperson for the district denied that dress codes in Simpson Middle Schools or districts had been changed.

Sophia is attempting to change the dress code of her school district to be gender-neutral and inclusive by bringing together her petition and Friday protests. Her solution? Her solution? A dress code that consists of shirts, bottoms and shoes.

This policy would allow tops to show the stomach, midriff and necklines, while bottoms could expose legs and thighs. All outfits must cover the groin and buttocks.

She stated that her protest and proposed dress code didn't get too much backlash and that teachers and other members of the community were supportive of her efforts. She sometimes has to make dirty looks at teachers she feels are judging her.

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