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Newsmaker 2022: A student protest and a new dress code

The biggest change arrives in January 2023, when a new “gender-neutral, inclusive” dress code will be adopted at CECCE’s 59 schools.

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On a scorching hot day last May, hundreds of students at Béatrice-Desloges high school in Orléans held a spirited protest against a sweep conducted by administrators to determine, among other things, whether the shorts worn by girls were too short.

The protest on the sidewalk in front of the school was a reaction to a dress code “blitz” the day before. Students, mainly girls, had been pulled out of class to have their clothing inspected.

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There is a long history of students rebelling against dress codes, with controversy over the years ranging from bans on ripped jeans to whether spaghetti strap tops are appropriate.

The protest at Béatrice-Desloges was notable because of the articulate outrage of the teenage girls and the adept response of the Conseil des écoles catholique du Centre-Est (CECCE).

Students chanted and held signs asking if their clothes were more important than their education and saying young women should not be sexualized.

Sophie Labbée, a Grade 12 student who was told her shorts didn’t meet the “mid-thigh” rule, said she was fed up with the scrutiny of girls’ bodies.

“It’s always the same story, over and over,” she said at the time. “They always say, ‘it’s not about you and your body. It’s about other people.’

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“I don’t understand why my body should make other people uncomfortable. If I was only 13, and being told my body was making other people uncomfortable, is this an appropriate thing to say to a child?”

CECCE superintendent Jason Dupuis arrived at the protest with a megaphone and calmed the crowd.

He promised to speak to every student who wanted to explain what had happened to them and to take their concerns seriously.

The students went back to class and the school board followed through.

The CECCE quickly issued an apology.

“All students must absolutely be treated with dignity and respect,” said Director of Education Marc Bertrand in a statement. “No student should be subject to such a check of their clothing and even less be challenged in front of their peers. The strategy employed by the school last Thursday unfortunately does not reflect these values ​​which are very dear to the CECCE (Conseil des écoles catholiques du Centre-Est).”

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The principal of the school was transferred to another job.

Bertrand, in an interview, said the CECCE conducted an investigation into the blitz that included interviewing about 80 people, mostly students. They were able to dispel some of the rumours circulating among students, including a story that staff had asked girls to bend over to check the length of their shorts, he said.

“That’s the power of social media … if staff were asking students to bend over or checking underwear, we would be calling police. I wouldn’t tolerate this under any means.”

The biggest change arrives in January 2023, when a new “gender-neutral, inclusive” dress code will be adopted at CECCE’s 59 schools.

The new code enables students to express themselves through their clothing while developing their critical thinking skills and making use of good judgment, board chair Johanne Lacombe announced in November.

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The new code says clothing should cover private parts.

In addition, students are not allowed to wear clothing that promotes or symbolizes drugs, alcohol, illegal activity, hatred, racism or discrimination, profanity, pornography or incites violence or harassment or threatens health and safety.

Bertrand said it was important to have a universal code that applies to all schools.

“We wanted to be more inclusive, we wanted to respect differences, we wanted to align with the times so it reflects the values of students and parents today,” he said in an interview.

The board had already begun studying the dress code in the fall of 2021, consulting students, social workers, staff, parents and the Canadian Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity, he said.

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The protest had an impact by helping focus the conversation about various items of clothing, said Bertrand.

Labbée said the protest accomplished its goal of raising the issue and striving for change.

“I feel like what we did was a good thing and it worked,” Labbée said in an interview from Montreal, where she’s attending Polytechnique Montréal.

Staff at CECCE schools will give presentations to students in January to explain the new dress code.

Max Turmel, a student at Beatrice-Desloges, was part of a school board committee studying the dress code as part of the consultation last year.

“I love it personally,” said Turmel.

“It doesn’t sound like a dress code. It’s more like a style code. It allows you to really open up yourself with the expression of style and clothing. That was the best move ever!”

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Teenagers are discovering themselves, which includes experimenting with clothing, said Turmel, who uses they/them pronouns.

“I identify as non-binary, so it was important to me to have a code that was inclusive of every gender.”

The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board also updated its dress code in 2022, which now “recognizes that all students have the right to express themselves fully in school through their choice of clothing, hair styles, jewelry, and accessories.”

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