Onteora school dress code tries to avoid gender-specific language

Student dress code policy and the use of gender neutral language within the policy, discussed at the Onteora Central School District Board of Education meeting November 21 at Bennett School, resulted in a debate between trustees that led to an agreement that the policy itself is gender neutral, with broad language. But the question remained: at what point does a battle of the sexes occur? Trustee Robert Burke-Warren said he had listened to stories from students of shaming, targeting girls, “or this thing called, ‘spaghetti strap gate,’ that went on a little while ago.”

“…one could argue that there is a direct link between creating the impression that boys may not be able to control their reaction, so girls dress has to be controlled instead,” said Trustee Laurie Osmond, filling as Board President. “It’s especially important considering things that are going on nationally…”

Warren also pointed out inconsistencies. “For example, you can’t wear a hat in Middle School, but you can in High School.”


Trustee Valerie Storey said, “I’m reading this policy and I see that it’s gender neutral as it is, as it sits currently.”

The language in the dress code policy states, “The responsibility for the dress and appearance of students shall rest with individual students and parents. They have the right to determine how the student shall dress, provided that such attire does not interfere with the operation of the school or infringes upon the general health, safety and welfare of District students or employees.” It was last reviewed in 2002.

“I think the language-as-is, might not be the issue, but what trustee Osmond said, it’s the enforcement issue,” said Student Representative Ben Rauschendorfer.

Superintendent Victoria McLaren pointed out that “The details of the dress code are in the code of conduct.” But Trustee Rob Kurnit said the code of conduct has not been reviewed since 2014, though it is supposed to be checked every year by the Board with updates if necessary. “The real important part is what is going on with regulations and how it’s instituted and are they being instituted in a balanced way. I think we need to be more clear on what it means to be gender neutral and the onus has been on the females in our society and I think it’s a real problem and we should be more proactive.” McLaren suggested having students involved in the mix with all trustees in agreement. Osmond added that the Code of Conduct should also cover “students who perceive themselves to be gender neutral.”