A public school in Houston, TX has rolled out a dress code for parents that is every bit as racist and gendered as the words “dress code” usually imply.
According to the New York Times, the dress code for anyone visiting the campus of James Madison High School, a public school of 1,600 students, prohibits: “revealing and sagging clothing...as well as pajamas, hair rollers and satin caps and bonnets, which are often worn by black women to protect their hair.”
The campus of James Madison High is 58% Latinx and 40% black, with three-quarters of its students qualifying for free or reduced lunch, prompting many to point out that these attempts to police appearance are being applied only to this particular community:
“Roni Dean-Burren, a former teacher who studies literacy and school discipline and lives in Houston, spoke out on Twitter, saying the rules policed black women’s hair and bodies in ways that were not equally applied to white women “wearing leggings and wet yoga hair to their kids’ school.”
In a phone interview, she said the school’s focus should be on student success and family engagement, not on how parents look. “It’s so far down the list of things to be concerned about,” she said.”
Others worry that this arbitrary dress code will discourage parents from engaging with their children’s school for fear of being publicly shamed by school officials. Parents have already been turned away for not looking snazzy enough to suit school authorities:
Joselyn Lewis, the mother in Houston who said she was turned away this month because of her attire, told Channel 2 News that she had worn a T-shirt dress and head wrap to enroll her 15-year-old daughter, who was being bullied at another school.
Researchers have found that school dress code policies, including restrictions around hairstyles and selectively-enforced rules about the way clothes should fit, disproportionately affect black girls, making it more difficult for them to attend class and adversely impacting their body image and confidence. Going after parents in addition to students seems like it can only make bad policies even more damaging.
In an April 9 letter to parents, principal Carlotta Outley Brown told parents, “You are your child’s first teacher...We are preparing your child for a prosperous future...We want them to know what is appropriate and what is not appropriate for any setting they may be in.”