A public Illinois high school that requires female students to wear skirts or dresses and men to wear pants and and a tie to their graduation ceremony is facing criticism from parents and alums who take issue with the policy.
An alum of the school told Jezebel that administrators at Wheaton North High School in Wheaton, Illinois recently sent a newsletter home to students and parents letting them know what clothes students are expected to wear to both the Senior Honors Assembly (where commencement robes are not worn) and to the Commencement ceremony (where robes are worn). The letter specifies that female students must wear dresses or skirts with dress sandals, while male students have to wear slacks, a shirt with a tie and dress shoes. The letter says that, "Those students who do not follow the dress requirements will not be permitted to participate in those events."
According to a Facebook page protesting the dress code, when parent Lee Samuelson Prior sent a note to Principal Jill Bullo about her issues with the policy (which included a link to this ACLU article about the topic), this is the message she got back:
I am not sure why you are stunned. These dress requirements have been in place long before I took over as principal. The Senior Newsletter has not changed since Rachel graduated. The Senior Honors Assembly is a formal occasion at Wheaton North High School as is Graduation. We are the only high school around that holds its Honor Assembly in front of the entire student body. I believe that we are able to do this because we create a sense of decorum within our school environment … and I also believe that student dress has a lot to do with it. For all of our formal occasions, Prom, Homecoming, etc. the girls traditionally wear skirts/dresses and the boys wear shirts/ties. So we continue this for the Honors Assembly. That being said, any senior girl who tells me that she is uncomfortable wearing a skirt/dress – I make an exception. Additionally, if a student does not want to ask me – they have had their counselors ask me. In 9 years of Honors Assembly / Graduations, I have never removed a female student for inappropriate dress.
Below is exactly what I say to the Senior Class (as I have for 10 years) at the Senior Assembly regarding dress.
- expected to dress appropriately
- tradition, females - dresses or skirts; males should wear slacks and a shirt and tie (tie bag)
- Males should wear regular shoes; females – shoes or dress sandals. No Gym Shoes for either
In my 10 years here I have never had a male ask to wear a dress. If we had a student who wore dresses to school or dances, then I am sure I would honor the request for graduation.
The article you sighted [sic] is from a website meant to protect the lgbt students. I believe that we try to protect our students within these walls … and dress has never been an issue. Please let me know if Jackie would like to wear dress slacks to the ceremonies so I can notify her counselor.
Prior's daughter, who is a senior at Wheaton North, told Prior that though Principal Bullo says in her email that exceptions to the dress code are allowed if they're asked for, when the rule was described to students during a senior assembly, it was stated as inflexible. The Wheaton North alum who emailed Jezebel said that as Bullo indicates, this was a policy at the school when she was a student in 2000. The article Prior sent to Bullo originally from the ACLU-NJ specifies that "Public schools cannot have gender-based dress requirements for graduation," and over the past few years, the ACLU has dealt with several cases like this.
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Prior has written back to Bullo, explaining that her issue is that students have to ask for an exception to the rule:
While I appreciate your willingness to allow "exceptions" to the "traditional" gender-based dress code, it is discriminatory as it requires students to come forward and ask. There is no reason for this caveat and potentially creates a hostile environment for students who do not express traditional gender expectations on a typical day, but aren't comfortable making themselves stand out (possibly even more!) by asking to "be an exception" for more formal events like these.
"No where in the newsletter did it refer to dresses or skirts for girls as suggested or traditional - it said "required" and that students would be "excluded" if they did not conform — big difference," Prior added. "A simple language change is how other public schools have balanced concerns about decorum and appearance with the legal requirement to create a safe place for all students, NOT based on gender."