The B.C. Teachers’ Federation has “come out swinging” against incendiary comments made by two Chilliwack school trustees regarding dress codes.
Glen Hansman, BCTF president, immediately spoke up after hearing that Trustees Darrell Furgason and Heather Maahs had spoke so harshly at a board meeting. Furgason said it is a girl’s responsibility to dress modestly, and called teaching boys not to react as an untested “experiment.” Maahs said that if girls are allowed to wear what they want at school, it would put girls in danger on school grounds and increase predatory behavior from men in the community. She said girls who dress certain ways are “looking for the wrong kind of attention.”
“We thought it was important we come out swinging,” Hansman told Black Press on Thursday. “This does contribute to body shaming in general.”
He said the days of putting the onus on women, young women and even little girls to dress “modestly” are long gone.
“It makes it all about other people’s urges or desires,” he said. “That your body is an object that is either something to be desired, or be disgusting.”
While he agreed boys are also subject to body shaming, discrimination against girls’ bodies is more evident within old school dress codes. And he commended the intent of the motion made on Tuesday by Trustee Willow Reichelt to put the decisions back to parents and students. Her motion was to create a district-wide policy that would replace all the individual school dress codes, and that the policy would respect each family’s morals and socio-economics.
But that was seen as a left-leaning “ideology” by Maahs, Furgason, and Trustee Barry Neufeld as well.
While Maahs and Furgason both said they don’t want the board interfering with dress codes, Neufeld did agree it’s an issue that could be best discussed by the Education Policy Advisory Committee (EPAC). However, because of the wording attached, he voted against sending it to EPAC as written.
While the motion was put forward by Reichelt, most of the wording was not hers. It was taken from Victoria School Board’s new dress code policy, with a minor addition.
Hansman noted that Victoria was the first school board to create a less restrictive, more inclusive district-wide policy. And since Chilliwack’s trustees have been in the news over the last few days, it seems more districts are rushing to create similar policies.
“Ironically, as with the adoption of SOGI, the absurd pronouncements made by these trustees have had the opposite affect and are spurring other districts to show they aren’t like them,” Hansman said. “Victoria led the way last year and it’s long overdue, making sure we’re not making assumptions about gender. It’s about time.”
It’s actually fairly common for older policies to still be in use at the board level around the province, Hansman said. Especially with the fuss around SOGI recently, boards have had less time to revisit old policies and bring them up to date.
“There’s a lot of old ones that haven’t been taken off the shelves and dusted off,” he said. “Society has kind of moved on and we are expecting from students a kind of formality and attire that doesn’t even really exist for staff anymore.”
Of course, not all trustees were against Reichelt’s motion to create a policy with the assistance from EPAC.
Trustee Jared Mumford spoke in favour of the motion, and explained his reasoning to Black Press.
“I believe the message being delivered to students via some dress code is that the way a girl dresses somehow determines her value, and that girls are somehow responsible for a boys (or man’s) behaviour,” Mumford said. “I would prefer to send a message that normalizes girls’ bodies so that they are looked at the same, regardless of what they are wearing, and where boys are expected to be responsible for their own feelings and behaviour.”
He believes in the intent of the motion and supports a change in dress codes.
“Some argue that current dress codes prepare students for the ‘real world’, but that is demonstrably untrue. In the real world, men see women dressed in spaghetti straps, leggings, and shorts every day and are expected to behave appropriately, yes, even at work,” he said. “I am not against a dress code, but it is clear to me that the current template needs to be amended. If standardization is required to do that, then that’s we need to look at as a board.”
He said the motion wasn’t to create a policy at the table, but to suggest a policy with EPAC’s help.
“Via EPAC, we will be able to get the viewpoint from all of our major stakeholders, including parents, teachers and administrators. It’s the right way to proceed.”
As for some of the other comments made on Tuesday by the trustees, Hansman did not hold back his thoughts. At one point, Maahs named a local school and said there is already a problem there with “pimps.”
“If she has firsthand information about criminal activity, she should be reporting that to the police,” Hansman said, noting that all teachers and staff at every school in B.C. has a duty to report abuse of any kind.
“I’m going to take her at her word, and if I don’t, the alternative is that she’s making stuff up,” he said.
As for Furgason, who noted he felt “uncomfortable” across from female students who were not modestly dressed in his opinion, Hansman said it was “creepy” thing to say.
And yes, the topic will be coming up over the weekend, as the BCTF holds it Annual General Meeting and elections from Saturday to Tuesday. Hansman has now served three years as president, and will be kicking off the weekend with welcoming remarks. The event will close on Tuesday with the election of new executives, which go into effect in July.
“I will be acknowledging all the work that still has to be done,” he said. “At the end of the day, violence against women and girls has not gone away in society and it’s long past the point where it’s the responsibility of girls and young women to get the perpetrators and stop doing this.”