Girls say high school dress code is sexist: 'School is telling us female bodies are distracting, and it’s wrong'

Some local high school students are challenging Burbank Unified’s dress code, saying it is sexist against girls, and they are planning to survey parents, teachers and students on how to amend the policy.

Eight students from Burroughs and Burbank high schools shared their personal experiences dealing with the dress code during the public-comment period of a Burbank school board meeting last week.

According to the policy, clothing must not “detract from the academic environment” and cannot promote the use of illegal substances, alcohol and should be void of profanity and violence. Low-cut tops, spaghetti-strap shirts, short skirts and short shorts are not permitted, nor are beanies and hats.

If a student wears inappropriate clothing, they are asked to change or a parent is asked to bring appropriate clothing.

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Burroughs High student Virginia Begakis said she was pulled out of an honors class earlier this month because she wore a shirt with straps that were too thin during a 110-degree day.

“School is telling us female bodies are distracting, and it’s wrong,” Virginia said, countering that the actual distraction is when teachers interrupt class to send a student away to change.

Hanna Mikaelian, another Burroughs student, showed board members a photo of an outfit she wore that violated the dress code because her bra strap was visible underneath what appears to be a sheer cardigan.

The issue was originally introduced to the board of education last month by Louie Kahn, student body president at Burroughs High. He said he was approached by several girls who complained about the policy during the first week of school.

To help make a strong case for revising the dress code, Louie held a meeting in the school’s auditorium prior to last week’s board meeting, where about 100 students attended to share what specifically they’d like to see changed.

He said students want more leniency with spaghetti straps, shoulder visibility and low-cut tops, especially during hot weather.

“I’m a boy and it hasn’t affected me, but my job is to represent my constituents on campus,” Louie said during a phone interview on Monday. “Many students feel it’s sexist and it needs language that is more neutral. … Styles have changed and it’s time for an update to the policy.”

In the coming weeks, Louie said surveys will be distributed to students, parents and teachers to gather information, such as reasons why a student violated the dress code. Results will then be shared with the school board.

Deborah Madrigal, principal at Burroughs High, said in a phone interview that she’s glad students are “demonstrating and participating in democracy and learning how to get something done.”

When a student violates the dress code, Madrigal said administrators try to address it quickly without taking time away from class, and reactions can vary from person to person.

Madrigal said she hopes students are successful in updating the dress code to reflect current styles.

Generally, boys disobey the dress code by wearing shirts that show naked women, she said, but as a heat wave hit the area early in the school year, girls wore shorts and off-the-shoulder tops that aren’t allowed.

“It’s hard for girls to find shorts that officially fit our dress code. It’s an older dress code, and you can’t buy shorts that long anymore — it’s hard for them to find the right shorts,” she said.

Supt. Matt Hill and John Paramo, district director of secondary education, visited Burroughs High to speak with the associated student body and explain how to create and implement policies.

Hill added that he sent emails last week to principals in the district stating they should be mindful of how a student is approached for violating the dress code.

“We encourage them to have town halls or forums to invite everybody after [they’ve] collected surveys so they can suggest changes for staff and the board to review,” Hill said during a phone interview.

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