School District 83 trustees have passed a new policy addressing student attire in schools. (File photo)

School District 83 trustees have passed a new policy addressing student attire in schools. (File photo)

New dress policy speaks to hateful messaging in North Okanagan-Shuswap schools

School District 83 trustees give first reading to anti-racism policy

A pair of policies aim to address hate-related issues that may arise in North Okanagan-Shuswap schools.

At its May 17 meeting, School District 83’s board of trustees approved a policy regarding student dress. Then the board gave first reading to a policy addressing racism.

In the Student Dress Guidelines policy, the school district recognizes a student’s choice of dress can form an important part of their self-identity. The policy asserts a guiding principle for student dress is one that “fosters inclusivity and respect for others.”

The dress policy states students must not wear clothing that undermines the school district’s commitment to safe and inclusive learning environments. This includes the following:

• Clothing that depicts the use of tobacco, drugs or alcohol, or any other restricted substance;

• Clothing that advocates illegal activity;

• Clothing that contains profanity, pornography or obscene images;

• Clothing, insignias, symbols or adornments that denigrate or depict hatred of a person or persons (including, but not limited to, hate based on race, colour, ancestry, place of origin, religion, marital status, family status, physical or mental disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and/or expression, or age).

“When there are differences in a perspective, all involved have a duty to seek common understanding in a mutually respectful manner,” reads the policy.

If a person dresses in a manner that contravenes the policy, the “process used to apply the guidelines will be confidential, educational, body positive, non-shaming and non-punitive.”

Trustee Quentin Bruns took issue with language in the policy, and said the policy is trying to address everything when it can’t.

“It’s trying to address everything but there’s no way you can,” said Bruns. “If somebody wants to promote hate based on body shape, height, socio-economic status, apparently that’s fair game…”

Read more: Clothing that ‘detracts from learning process’ removed from SD73 student dress code

Read more: BCTF president speaks up on Chilliwack dress code comments

Bruns said in an attempt to be progressive, teachers and administrators are not being given the tools needed to address the problems they see more often.

“I don’t work in a school, but I think it’s fairly rare when somebody comes in and has symbols of hatred… on their clothing,” said Bruns. “That’s not the dress issues that teachers and principals are faced with. Those would be things like maybe the type of clothing or the lack of clothing.”

Trustee Marty Gibbons said he liked the policy and how it doesn’t have “anyone measuring how long someone’s shirt is or how long someone’s skirt is.”

“I think the thing that really comes out to me…when there’s a difference in perspective, all involved have a duty to seek a common understanding in a mutual, respectful manner,” said Gibbons. “I think that is a conversation-based approach to resolving these issues. We have to be strong on hate.”

Superintendent Donna Kriger said the dress policy was somewhat “philosophical in nature,” and there will be administrative procedures constructed around the policy that will give more guidance to school administration.

Apart from comment about its name already being outdated, the school district’s proposed anti-racism policy received first reading with little discussion. This policy recognizes racism in all its forms as being “embedded in our society,” and sets out expectations for “each member of the school district community to work to ensure schools do not perpetuate stereotyping, bias, discrimination, racism or inequality.”

Having received first reading, the anti-racism policy will go out to the public and stakeholder groups for input.

It will then be reviewed by a policy committee, necessary changes will be incorporated, and the policy will come back to the board.
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