Durham student calling on region’s public schools to scrap ‘toxic’ dress codes

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A Grade 12 student from Oshawa is trying to push the Durham District School Board to get rid of its dress codes, which she says are "sexist." But as Jasmine Pazzano explains, reaction to her movement is mixed – Oct 26, 2018

An Oshawa, Ont., high school student is trying to push Durham’s public schools to get rid of all dress codes, saying these spread “toxic” messages to students and staff about girls’ and women’s bodies.

Every school within the Durham District School Board (DDSB) sets its own dress code, but 17-year-old Sofie Eklund says many of the common rules — including concealing cleavage and shoulders — unfairly target girls.

“[The codes] are sexist because the basis of these rules is that you shouldn’t be showing a certain amount of skin,” said Eklund, a Grade 12 student at O’Neill Collegiate and Vocational Institute.
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“When you think about why,” she continues, “the only justification that I can come up with is that either [the schools] are saying that either our bodies are inappropriate or our bodies are sexual.”

READ MORE: School official says ‘blame the girls’ for dress code policy because ‘they pretty much ruin everything’

Another common rule, which her school has adopted, is that everyone within the school must cover their midriff and back areas.

Many students, like 17-year-old Nathaniel Corbin, agree with Eklund’s reasoning.

“Sometimes, I feel like the school doesn’t really compromise with… females at the school to kind of help them feel comfortable,” said Corbin, who attends G.L. Roberts Collegiate and Vocational Institute in Oshawa. “If it’s a hot day, they still have to cover up, and I feel like that can inhibit learning.”

His school has implemented a rule that prohibits people from wearing bottoms, like pants and skirts, with slits above the mid-thigh, and 14-year-old student Etova Nagy says staff at the school called have called her out for breaking this code.

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WATCH: Student escorted out of Fanshawe College’s gym over incident about her outfit

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Student escorted out of Fanshawe College’s gym over incident about her outfit – Jan 24, 2018

“One time, I was wearing jeans and the rips were too high,” said Nagy, “and I was told I couldn’t wear those jeans to school anymore.”

“It’s really unfair,” said another G.L. Roberts student, Eliza Dempsey, who is in Grade 10. “It’s like, oh, our shoulders are distracting?”

However, some students believe the dress code exists for a reason. Grade 12 student Nathan Longbottom says when students wear “barely any clothing,” it makes him feel “awkward.”

“[It] makes me focus on other things other than the work I’m meant to be doing,” he said.

READ MORE: Edmonton public school trustees vote that school dress codes shouldn’t be gender specific

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DDSB schools place a ban on clothing with inappropriate logos, phrases and pictures. Eklund argues that there are other policies in place, such as the inappropriate language policy, to prevent people from wearing clothing with these kinds of messages to school.

Although the DDSB was unavailable for an on-camera interview, it provided Global News with a statement, saying dress codes are reviewed annually by staff, teachers, parents/guardians and students.

Eklund has spoken with staff at her school, who she says have encouraged her to push forward with her movement. She says she hopes she can first revoke her school’s dress code, then use these changes as a model to propose a board-wide policy.

“With these rules revoked, people will focus less on how they dress,” she said. “We’re just here to learn.”

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