School board adopts dress code changes

Parent Erica Ireland shows a photo of her 4-year-old son, who prefers wearing soft fleece clothing, to the board at a March 30 meeting. Wearing fleece was prohibited in the dress code prior to the board’s 6-1 vote on April 6. (Photo by Valerie Shelton)

After months of deliberation, the Clovis Unified School Board voted 6-1 to adopt proposed gender-neutral changes to the district’s dress code on April 6.

The new dress code no longer puts restrictions on male students, who could not wear their hair long or wear earrings under the previous dress code. Instead, female and male students are now subject to the same dress code requirements.

Several community members spoke prior to the vote in support of the proposed changes. Many described the action as a step in the right direction for the conservative Clovis Unified School District.

Karen Adell Scot, the founder of Trans Care, which provides resources and support to transgender men and women in the Valley, said now it’s up to school faculty and staff to follow and dress code and aid those students who decide to come out now that they feel more comfortable to do so.

“You need to take into account that you need to train your personnel,” Scot said. “They are going to have transgender boys and transgender girls who are coming out and you’re not going to see them coming. If they feel it starting to be safe, they won’t leave your district, they will start to come out and when they come out, they are going to be bullied by other students tremendously. You need to train your staff to notice them when they come out because of the relentless bullying they are going to get and you need to be able to support them.”

Scot also said she would like to see revisions in the future that specifically state that transgender students won’t be subject to the waiver process—as many of them may not be out to their own families yet. She also said she would like to see the word “distracting” defined in reference to make-up, which the new dress code says cannot be distracting.

“I want to make sure you do not include a transgender student in a requirement to get some sort of exemption waiver,” Scot said. “That student might not be out to their parents, they may not be out to their brothers and sisters, they might not be out to any of their friends and to have a written requirement of a waiver or have some sort of a verbal where they have to walk in and talk with a board member or a faculty member or a teacher, it might out that student and that can be incredibly dangerous for suicide. I’d also like to have some clarification as to what you mean by distracting make-up. You need to define those terms to make sure that if a presenting boy child is transitioning to female that putting on normal female make-up, even though it is completely different from the day before, is not looked at as distracting make-up.”

Clovis attorney Isabel Machado also said she is glad to see the board adopting the changes, but that terms like “distracting” do need to be defined better in the code. Several other community members, students and parents made similar statements about the dress code.

Only one parent, Josh Fulfer, spoke against the changes. He said the changes go against the traditional “Clovis way of life.”

“People that are from Clovis have conservative values and there is a big difference between Clovis Unified and other school districts in the area. That is known to everybody,” Fulfer said. “Sure, there should be some changes to the dress code just to make it where there is a black and white line but as far as this whole change, I think you’re going to open up a big can of worms because I have a son at Buchanan and a daughter at Century and no one is talking about what happens their feelings get hurt. What if they feel uncomfortable at school? They are the majority and unfortunately it is the silent majority which are the ones who get run over every time because you have five or six percent scream and the squeaky wheel gets the grease.

“I went all the way through from Dry Creek to Alta Sierra to Buchanan. I have a great career now and I didn’t like the dress code at all. I fought it every way I could, whether it was my hair or this or that, but as I got older and more mature I realized wow, it had taught me something. Now, when I interview people, the first thing I see is their appearance of how they take care of themselves and I try to instill that into my children and I really do wonder now that you’ve changed the dress code, now how will 80 percent of the children how will they feel. What are you going to do for them when they feel offended in class because they are distracted by what someone is wearing?”

Prior to the vote, some board members expressed their concerns about adopting the changes to the dress code. Richard Lake, the sole board member to vote against the changes, said he could no support a gender-neutral dress code.

“I have not been convinced yet that a gender-neutral dress code is the way to go,” Lake said. “I think there are a couple of issues within the code itself, but the fact that we should exclude male and female from our dress code to me is inappropriate…Anything in life, you are never going to please 100 percent of the people but we strive to do the best we can. In all the years I’ve been involved on the school board, we’ve always taken the opportunity to work with parents and families and children in coming up with solutions. I don’t think that we’ve intentionally in any way ever discriminated against anybody in our school district. I think we do things rightly and appropriately with every circumstance that we deal with. What I’m disappointed in beyond the dress code is the fact that local control of our educational system is being taken away from us and that is what we should be concerned about… For me, I think it is very appropriate that there be some things in our dress code specifically related to gender because that is what a dress code is really talking about, it talks about males, it talks about females, and we shouldn’t be ashamed of that. For me, I can’t support the way that we have rewritten this dress code based on that particular exclusion.”

Board members Betsy Sandoval, Ginny Hovsepian and Sandra Bengel also shared their thoughts on the dress code and though ultimately all three voted in favor of the change, they all expressed their hesistance to do so.

“Since our prior dress code vote in January many weeks ago I’ve been diligently researching all the laws and policies we have out there, exhausting every possible resource and leaving no stone unturned, trying to confirm the recommended changes and see that they are required within the law,” Bengel said. “This unfiltered study that I’ve gone through has given me reassurance that the proposed modifications to the dress code are necessary, although it is still not what I prefer to do. My approach to the dress code has been what is in the best interest of all students, not for any particular special interest group. Our dress code will continue to set a high standard and honor the bold traditions of Clovis Unified and our community even with the changes.”

Board president Chris Casado said that with the changes, Clovis Unified continues to have high standards in its dress code.

“To those who expressed concerns about what you perceive as a diminishing of our high standards, I assure you that this district’s dress code continues to be the most comprehensive in the state and sets a very high standard,” Casado said. “I know that our administration will continue to enforce the dress code on our school campuses. This was not an easy or rushed decision and I appreciate the thoughtful consideration and research each member of the board devoted to this issue.”

Superintendent Janet Young echoed Casado’s remarks when addressing the audience after the vote.

“The district has grown over time and we have experienced changes. In fact, the dress code has changed a total of 24 times since 1974 and with each change our dress code has provided what we believe to be a safe environment for our children that also helps them prepare to be successful in a world outside of K-12 education,” Young said. “The past changes to the dress code did not compromise the district’s core values and I believe that tonight’s changes won’t either. I believe that the dress code approved tonight is the most comprehensive of all school districts in the state of California and its purpose and its aim remain unchanged.”