On August 26th, 2021 students at Thomas Edison High School in Fairfax County staged an in-school demonstration to call attention to what they perceive as “unjust and uneven enforcement” of the FCPS dress code.
The demonstration was in direct response to events from the previous school day, August 25th, when many students noticed their peers being “dress-coded” openly during passing periods. The following day, upperclassmen brought attention via social media to this issue, stating that it was “negatively affecting the student body”, and an in-school demonstration was held. One student also created a Google site where students can report their experiences with suspected dress code violations. The day of the demonstration many students–both male and female–came to school in revealing clothing to protest the dress code. Many students reported observing inconsistencies in enforcement, with female students being targeted more frequently than their male counterparts. They particularly noted a perceived failure to use discretion when pointing out potential violations towards female students.
In a recording obtained by the Sentinel, a teacher can be heard telling a female student to turn around and show a male administrator how short her shorts were — twice. The female student is a senior at Edison High school, and when looking back, she says that the request felt “awkward” and made her “uncomfortable.” The official language of the FCPS dress code in the Student Rights and Responsibilities (SR&R) states that, “School staff will resolve dress code infractions in a discreet and respectful manner and without any of the following: using any direct physical contact with the student or the student’s attire or requiring any student to undress in front of another person.” The female student in the video said that the altercation was “definitely not discreet or handled in a respectful manner.” In response to the complaints coming from students about the dress code violations, administrators decided to hold meetings during each lunch period for students to ask questions and discuss the outcome/aftermath of the protest.
One senior at Edison, Andrew Perry, said of the issue, “I don’t find my peers’ dress a distraction…it is a distraction when [an] admin makes [a student] wear their suit jacket during class.” Perry, who stood alongside his female peers the day of the demonstration, stated that taking a stand was crucial in order to inform about the violations happening against the female student body. Other male allies have reported their own observations regarding uneven enforcement of the dress code, with male students falling under far less scrutiny than their female counterparts.
Even teachers have begun to notice the controversy surrounding the demonstrations and dress code violations. One teacher told the Sentinel that she believes we “may need to revisit the updated dress code guidelines” and that “what other schools and districts are doing that could perhaps serve as a model for how to approach dress code in a more equitable way.” All around, this situation has called for an awakening of the adults responsible for the wellbeing of students at Edison High School.
Jayde Entwistle, a senior at Edison High School and the student who created the Google form, has encouraged students to stand up and take action against the dress code violations. She has recounted the events that occurred with her and the student body during the days before and after the in-school protest. In response to the punishments given to students, including Entwisle who was dress coded that day, she said “Instead of punishing us they should be educating us on respecting others and keeping to ourselves.” Entwisle has brought awareness to the fact that the official SR&R dress code states that “Clothing that exposes an excessive amount of bare skin is prohibited.” She says “Everyone has their own definition of what an excessive amount of bare skin is…[which] means it’s left up for interpretation for teachers and administrators to decide what an excessive amount of skin is, and that is not okay.” Speaking of her experience with the dress code, she recounts an altercation where an administrator at Edison “refused to have a meeting with me to discuss the dress code violations unless I was dressed appropriately.” Entwisle wanted to try and make a change in a mature way; she wanted to voice her concerns regarding the events that were happening at school, yet was shut down just because of what she was wearing. Many students including Entwisle are frustrated that these situations are taking place during school and taking time away from their education. Furthermore, Entwisle emphasizes, “We are students, we come to school to learn, not worry about what our teachers think of our clothes…Even if they are going to have a dress code it should be enforced appropriately and fairly.”
Sophomore Ellie Teal says the way students were treated the day of the demonstration “was really unfair because we just wanted to be heard, but I understand we could’ve done it in a more [diplomatic] way.” At the end of the day, what is of the utmost importance is the students’ education and maintaining a peaceful environment–something everyone can agree with. Students at Edison High School are willing to meet halfway with administrators, but a discussion needs to take place.