Hamilton school board to revise ‘sexist and outdated’ dress code after student protests

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Published October 18, 2021 at 11:49 pm

Content warning: this article contains discussion of sexual violence.

The two student trustees on Hamilton’s public school board have passed a motion that will spur the revision of dress code policies.

Late Monday, Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB) student trustee Aisha Mahmoud said that a motion calling for the “develop(ment) of new guidelines that supports a safe school environment based on the principles of an anti-oppressive, non-discriminatory, equitable and inclusive education” was adopted unanimously. Mahmoud and fellow student trustee Deema Abdel Hafeez brought the motion with support from trustee Maria Felix Miller.

A week ago Friday, on Oct. 8, Waterdown District High School students walked out because they believed their principal had reinforced myths about sexual assault and sexual violence. Waterdown DHS principal Theresa Sgambato had read a reminder about the school dress code for females on the morning announcements only days after the Hamilton Police Service began investigating sexual assault and harassment complains linked to the school. Sgambato subsequently apologized, but the cause has spread to other schools.

“This victory feels personal, emotional, and long overdue,” Mahmoud, who attends Ancaster High School, wrote in a tweet. “So thankful for the incredible leadership displayed by students, and for the productive discussion at the Board table.”

Hafeez, who attends Saltfleet DHS in Stoney Creek, wrote that the staff will have to revisit the policy “through an anti-oppressive, non-discriminatory lens.”

The motion acknowledges that “rape culture is pervasive across educational institutions, and we have a responsibility as public servants to ensure that our policies do not further perpetuate sexist and harmful notions that stigmatizes one set of students over another.” It also notes that current HWDSB policy “singles out traditionally ‘feminine’ clothing, creates a double standard for one group, has the potential to be weaponized disproportionately, upholds sexist notions of modesty, and wastes staff resources in its implementation and enforcement.”

Language from the Toronto District School Board, which has also revisited and revised its policies about appropriate dress, is also built into the motion.

The HWDSB oversees 15 secondary schools in the old city and the suburbs.

Resources

Articles about sexual assault, gendered violence and/or intimate partner violence can be triggering for survivors. There are a number of resources in Hamilton that support survivors:

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