What is the Student Dress Policy?
The Student Dress Policy has been developed to provide students with learning environments that are safe, equitable, welcoming and inclusive and recognizes that decisions about dress reflect individual expression of identity, socio-cultural norms, and economic factors and are personal and important factor’s to a person’s well-being and health.
Why was the policy revised?
The policy was reviewed and revised under a critical equity review of operational requirements and current practices, as well as a scan of related policies in other school boards.
The Board also received an overwhelming amount of feedback from students who felt the design, application and enforcement of individual school dress codes was unfair, often resulting in shaming and differential treatment that disproportionately and negatively impacted: female-identified students, racialized students, gender diverse, transgender and non-binary students, students with disabilities, socioeconomically marginalized students and Indigenous, First Nation, Métis, and Inuit students.
Clothing is one way we express our individuality and identity. Students have the right to express themselves, feel comfortable in what they wear and the freedom to make choices about their appearance while ensuring schools are safe, welcoming and respectful.
What has changed in the policy?
Some of the key changes include:
- Renaming the policy to Student Dress Policy (formerly the Appropriate Dress Policy)
- Creating a unified system-wide dress code for all schools based on the principles of fairness and equity
- Ensuring enforcement is fair, consistent and transparent
- Focusing on student voice, impact and engagement in development, review and revisions of the dress code
- Ensuring student engagement in any uniform policy development as well as an equal right to vote in any uniform policy decision
- Enhancing knowledge and awareness of assumptions or stereotypes that are based on or reinforce bias, prejudice and discrimination and may lead to discriminatory application of dress codes
How were these changes made?
There was considerable consultation process, including posting the draft policy on the TDSB website for 90 days, an online public survey portal, as well as focus group discussions / consultations with students, staff, parents/guardians and other key stakeholders. The Board received more than 400 written feedback submissions, 19% of those from students. This feedback was used to redraft the final version of the policy.
Where does this policy apply?
This policy applies to the whole district, including all schools and any TDSB education programs for students, even those not located on school sites.
Who does this policy apply to?
This policy has application for all staff and students. However, the dress code elements apply to students exclusively. Staff are responsible for the implementation, application, education and enforcement aspects of the policy.
When does the policy take effect?
The policy was approved by the Board of Trustees on May 22, 2019. However, the TDSB implementation and communication plan will require time to support a transition to the district-wide dress code, with a planned implementation date of September 2019.
Does this replace my school's current dress code?
Yes. In September 2019, this policy replaces schools' current dress code unless they are a uniformed school. Read more about the impact on uniformed schools below.
Student Dress Details
What are students allowed to wear?
- Must wear a top and bottom layer of clothing of opaque material.
- May wear tops that expose arms, shoulders, stomachs, midriff, neck lines, cleavage and straps but must cover the nipples.
- May wear bottoms that expose legs, thighs and hips and expose straps and waistbands, but must cover the groin and buttocks.
- May wear any headwear that does not obscure the face.
- May wear dress requirements to support a creed practices and similar human rights accommodations.
- May not wear tops that expose nipples.
- May not wear bottoms that expose the groin and buttocks.
- May not wear any headwear that obscures the face.
- May not wear undergarments as outerwear.
- May not wear anything that promotes or symbolizes drugs, alcohol, illegal activity, hate or discrimination, profanity, pornography; or that incites violence or harassment; or threatens health and safety.
Does this mean headwear can be worn anywhere at school, all the time?
Yes, any headwear that does not obscure the face can be worn to school, during classes and assemblies.
What if students try to use their hoodies/ headwear to hide ear buds in class?
If students are not supposed to be using ear buds in class and you discover a student who is using their headwear to hide them, ask the student to remove the ear buds. If the issue persists it would be reasonable to ask the student either wear the hood/ headwear far enough back so their ears are fully exposed or to remove their hood/headwear until the end of class.
What if the headwear could be a safety risk because of the activity or equipment used in some classes?
The policy mandates that students must wear clothing that conforms to the health and safety requirements for a particular class or activity. If headwear or any other item of clothing doesn’t conform to those particular requirements, or presents a safety risk based on objective, verifiable evidence of what any reasonable person would consider risk, the policy would direct staff to have students remove the clothing item and/or change into appropriate safety wear for the activity.
Obscured faces are a safety risk; couldn’t any hat or hood be used to hide from security cameras?
The policy doesn’t allow students to wear any head covering that obscures the face and both hoods and hats would be expected to worn in such a way that shows the whole face. If a particular pattern of incidents arises where students are routinely using their head wear to hide from school cameras or obscure their face from view, particularly if there is a threat to persons or property, it is reasonable to direct all students to remove their headwear until such a time that the threat/incidents have been successfully responded to.
What about gang colours?
The use of the term ‘gang colours’ implies a racist bias and is particularly inflammatory to certain communities who have experienced a history of racial profiling from police and security. The policy however makes it clear that students cannot wear any dress items that symbolize, suggest, display, promote or incite violence, illegal conduct or criminal activity. If staff have objective, verifiable evidence that demonstrates that any student items of dress violate this rule, they may direct students to remove the inappropriate dress and respond to the incident using the Caring and Safe Schools Policy (P051).
Won’t allowing students to show more skin encourage promiscuity, distraction and possible sexual harassment?
The policy recognizes that dress plays a fundamental role in students’ lives and that students come from many diverse backgrounds, identities and experiences and ultimately their right to decide their dress resides with their family. The policy therefore provides choices for students dress and does not encourage any one choice but rather only directs students on what are inappropriate choices for dress at school.
Policing students’ bodies is neither a positive, nor effective method to encourage respectful behaviours, ensure safety and discourage harassing behaviour. However, educating students about topics of diversity, healthy relationships, sexism and discrimination, boundaries and consent is a fundamental requirement of creating a safe and positive school climate and effective strategy to ensure healthy and shared respectful spaces for everyone.
If only nipples, buttocks and groin need to be covered, does this mean that students could just wear pasties and boxers or a string bikini and thong to school?
The policy is very clear that undergarments may not be worn as outerwear. Undergarments would include underwear like boxers/briefs/bras and any lingerie, like pasties or thongs. Swimwear of any type may only be worn by permission based on the dress required for the activity and would not be appropriate as outerwear in any other circumstance.
If nipples can’t be exposed does that mean that boys can’t play sports shirtless or go swimming without a top on?
The policy allows the school Principal to impose discretionary restrictions, such as restricting male identified students to go topless but only as part of their standard swim wear for that limited activity, and permits discretionary exceptions such as allowing males to play sports shirtless but only if offered fairly to any female identified students who would make the same request.
Who is responsible for the policy?
The implementation, coordination and day-to-day management of the policy is assigned to the school Principal.
How is the policy enforced?
To ensure effective and equitable enforcement, staff must be consistent and fair in application of the student dress code and base decisions on objective, verifiable evidence of impact. Any dress that promotes violence, bias, prejudice, hate or presents a risk to health and safety will be responded to using the caring and safe school code of conduct and may result in discipline.
All other dress code violations will be treated as minor on the continuum of school rules and offer students choices to remedy any inappropriate dress.
Read the full section on Enforcement in section 6.6 of the policy.
How do Principals use their judgement and discretion on what is considered “offensive?”
The Board gives clear direction in many policies related to equity, human rights, occupational health and safety, board code of conduct, and caring and safe schools. However, whenever there is subjectivity in a principal’s decision regarding their school’s dress code enforcement they are expected to use judgement of what a reasonable person would conclude, based on a balance of probabilities and the impact and intent, using objective, verifiable evidence.
“Offensive” is used in the Student Dress Policy as part of 6.2: “Not promote offensive, lewd, vulgar, or obscene images or language, including profanity, hate and pornography.” Therefore, the principal would be guided to limit judgements of ‘offensive dress’ to those that promote images or language and has an impact similar to obscenity, hate or pornography.
How does the policy change rules for schools with uniforms?
The previous TDSB procedures for adopting school uniforms completely excluded students from the discussions and process and mandated a three year review, renewal and vote for schools to maintain or change any uniform standards. The new student dress policy includes students in discussions about any uniforms, and maintains the same three year review, renewal and voting process however students from Grades 7-12 will be able cast their own vote, and any new uniform standard would be expected to comply with every other aspect of the section 6.2 dress code, including the full range of students dress choices, essentially only allowing school uniforms standard to only impose colour restrictions ( e.g. white tops, black bottoms).
What about families who have already purchased uniforms for next school year?
The Board recognizes that some families have already committed to purchasing their uniforms based on their current uniform school’s three year review cycle and is allowing for a transition period of old uniform standards to remain in place until the school takes its regular review vote over the next 1-3 years. Uniform schools will be expected, however, to fully implement every other aspect, including the enforcement process, of the new policy as of September 1, 2019.
Does this mean parents/ guardians have no more voting rights for uniform decisions at schools?
No, the policy allows parents and guardians of grades K-6 students to cast votes on their behalf. However, students in Grades 7-12 may cast their own votes and students from K-12 and parents/ guardians would need to be consulted and part of the discussions for any uniform vote, regardless of who was casting the vote.
Does this mean any ‘new’ uniform standard voted in after this policy couldn’t restrict headwear, length of clothing, or type of clothing differently than a ‘non-uniform’ school?
Yes and no, any new uniform standards adopted could not restrict students dress choices other than those already detailed in Section 6.2 of the policy, however schools could vote to maintain a standard uniform colour without limiting dress choices (e.g. white tops, black bottoms). Schools could even brand certain items of clothing with school logos (shirts, shorts, jerseys, hats, etc.) and encourage students, but not force them, to wear these uniform clothing options.
Questions and Concerns
I have concerns about the policy. Who do I speak with?
For issues that are unable to be resolved with staff, students are encouraged to put their concerns or complaints in writing. Written concerns will be reviewed and responded to by the Principal or Superintendent in a timely manner.
Parents/guardians may use the Parent Concern Protocol (PR505), Board Code of Conduct (PR585), and the Reporting of Suspected Wrongdoing (Whistleblowing) Procedure(PR710) to address issues related to student dress code enforcement.
Where do I learn more about the policy?
Read the full Student Dress Policy.