Policy requiring clothing “in keeping with a student’s gender” violates federal law.

Suffolk County, VA – In a letter faxed to the Suffolk County School Board this afternoon, the ACLU of Virginia said that a proposed dress code policy is unconstitutionally vague and discriminates based on sex.
The policy, which is to be considered at tonight’s school board meeting, prohibits “[a]ny clothing worn by a student that is not in keeping with a student’s gender and causes a disruption and/or distracts others from the educational process or poses a health or safety concern.”
According to the letter, authored by ACLU of Virginia Legal Director Rebecca Glenberg, the law is unconstitutionally vague because it is impossible for students to predict what clothing will be considered to belong exclusively to one gender or another.
The letter states that the policy also violates Title IX, the federal law that prohibits educational institutions from discriminating on the basis of sex.  Court cases have found that requiring individuals to conform to stereotypes about how their gender is supposed to behave is a form of sex discrimination.
“In this day and age, there is simply no reason to require students to wear particular types of clothing based on their gender,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis.  “If a student’s decision not to conform to gender roles is ‘distracting’ to another student, the school’s responsibility is to refocus the distracted student, not to reinforce gender stereotypes.”
The ACLU letter points out that if students are bullied or harassed because they are perceived as not acting in accordance with their gender roles, the school is legally required to prevent the bullying.
The letter states that passing the policy would be “a virtual invitation to litigation.”   If the policy is enacted, the organization is interested in hearing from students who are affected.
The ACLU letter is available here.

Contact: Kent Willis, Executive Director, 804-644-8022