A revised district-wide dress code policy is on the way for School District 73.
The new policy is being created after Grade 12 NorKam secondary student Karis Wilson was pulled out of class and sent home because of what she was wearing — a lace-trimmed, knee-length dress worn over top a long-sleeve turtleneck shirt.
The incident led to a walkout by some NorKam students on Wednesday (Feb. 24) and has drawn thousands of comments on social media and news stories from across the province.
SD73 Supt. Terry Sullivan said he couldn't comment on that incident specifically, citing privacy concerns, but did confirm that an updated policy will be revealed in the coming weeks, likely by the end of March.
"Dress codes have to evolve as the norms and values of society evolve," he told KTW.
Sullivan said he has researched dress code policies in the past, during his previous tenure as district superintendent, and cited an incident in the 1950s as evidence of how norms have continued to change.
"I found that there were a number of students in 1956 who were suspended in a Vancouver high school for wearing saddle shoes," he said. Saddle shoes are simple black and white Oxford-style shoes, apparently once considered inappropriate as school attire.
"The point is, dress codes have to evolve," he said.
Sullivan said the district's dress code policy has been under review for months, following an incident in the fall at South Kamloops secondary.
After a new district-wide policy is put in place, Sullivan said schools will be able to develop their own dress codes in conformity with the district's policy.
"Hopefully, I think it will be more in tune with respect to where everybody is at at this point," Sullivan said, noting a draft of the policy is already circulating among staff.
But some have called for a more collaborative approach, including Kamloops Sexual Assault Counselling Centre co-ordinator Alix Dolson, who offered the agency's guidance to SD73 in developing a new policy.
"I think it's pretty clear these policies target female-identifying students disproportionately," Dolson told KTW.
At issue, in particular, is item 1.8 of SD73's administrative procedure 350.2, which states that school dress codes must consider "the wearing of clothing or clothing worn in a way that detracts from the teaching/learning process."
Dolson said any policy that must be interpreted by administrators or teachers as to whether or not an outfit is distracting is problematic.
"If people have more conservative views and that's the approach they want to take in dressing their own bodies, they can do that. But that's about as far as that can extend," Dolson said. "Conservative values around modesty are rooted in sexual morals. You can't parse the two apart.”
Dolson said dress codes such as SD73's reinforce rape culture and paint students as inherently sexual and as something shameful.
"It just reinforces those ideas that young women's bodies are inherently sexual and it's up to them to protect other people from having a sexual response to themselves," Dolson said.
Dolson said she favours a student-led approach to the matter, such as what is underway at South Kamloops secondary, where students are involved in a committee to develop a dress code there.