Report on the Board of Education Meeting of November 10, 2015 followed by opinion discussing Piedmont’s Dress Code presentations. Written by Piedmont High School student Chloe Combes.
The Board of Education for the Piedmont Unified School District meets on the second and fourth Wednesday of every month. The board met on the 10th of November, 2015, a Tuesday, as City Hall was closed the following day for Veterans’ Day. The purpose of these meetings is to make announcements to the community, hear from various school staff associations, receive comment from the public, and review and approve action items such as calendars, donations, and budget.
At this particular meeting, the Board of Education first heard the public speak to items not included on the Agenda. Every person who came before the Board at this time was a member of Mr. Keller’s senior civics class. First, Louis Teitelbaum discussed the importance of including the Bible in the English curriculum at Piedmont High School in order to further students’ understanding of the literature already part of the English curriculum. Then, I presented my speech on the issue of dress code presentations at the Middle School and High School and how such presentations lead to self-objectification and victim blaming, as well as serious mental and physical health issues for both girls and boys. Following, Connor Addiego spoke on the necessity of parking near the football field for handicap accessibility. Finally, Reece James expressed his opinion on the school calendar for next year concerning the testing schedule, explaining that finals being after the break was beneficial for seniors, who are under increased pressure applying to colleges in December.
After the time for non-agenda related items was closed, the Board made announcements concerning site planning at all the schools in the district as well as the upcoming book drive. Then, Superintendent Randall Booker gave a history on the Reorganization of the Board, emphasizing that this was the first year that the the board would be reorganized in December. After President Andrea Swenson and Vice President Sarah Pearson had both put their hats in the ring for re-election, Mr. Raushenbush commented that he enjoys that the presidency rotates every year (as California’s education code requires that the Board of Education votes every year).
Next, the Board of Education discussed the Tri-School Plan, a series of goals being created by the principals at Havens, Beach, and Wildwood which adhere to more general LCAP (Local Control and Accountability Plan) goals in terms of instructional excellence, social and emotional growth, and parent involvement and leadership. They then outlined what their next steps would be, such as integrating health standards and celebration of student work.
After the Board approved the Tri-School Plan for Student Achievement, it discussed temporary borrowing from the Alameda County Treasury. The reason for this temporary borrowing is that the State does not give any apportionments to K-12 schools until December. The borrowing would allow the schools to meet cash flow needs and would be returned within the fiscal year (by April). This was quickly approved and Ms. Kashani was called to discuss the Instructional Calendar that was voted for by the teachers, as she was the representative of the Association of Piedmont Teachers. She explained the statistics of the survey that was taken by parents and teachers concerning the calendar. The survey demonstrated that parents and students often find winter break to be stressful rather than relaxing due to finals being placed afterwards.
Superintendent Booker showed a powerpoint of the new calendar explaining all the changes from the old one to the board, such as the Thanksgiving week schedule as well as the weeks preceding winter break. He also explained the new “Flexible Professional Development” which designates certain days of the year for teachers to have teacher development with their fellow department members. Eighteen hours in total are required for this development, which can be done outside of the designated days if teachers wish. On this particular issue, I had mixed opinions.
Reece James expressed that it is difficult for seniors to have both finals and college applications due in this time frame, and Winter Break is an excellent time to review and catch up on school work. However, I understand that it is important for students to have Winter Break as an actual break from school rather than just additional time to study and stress over upcoming finals. The new calendar was approved by the board
Afterwards, a few announcements were made such as the Middle School Site Plan, the LCAP meeting, which Board Member Amal Smith attended, and the Millennium High School potluck, which Vice President Pearson attended. Ms. Pearson announced the upcoming play “Servant of Two Masters,” as well as the upcoming sexual assault prevention and non-suicidal self injury meetings.
The Consent Calendar including a $3,000 donation to Piedmont High School was quickly approved as a “Perfect Consent Calendar.” The meeting was then adjourned.
I sought out board member Mr. Richard Raushenbush to ask him a few questions about the meeting. When asked what the next step would be in an area of concern to him, he said that another way to alleviate student stress would be to create a master testing schedule, which has been on the board’s agenda for discussion in the future. This would ensure that multiple tests would not fall on the same day. He then expressed the issue that it can be difficult to create a testing schedule for the entire year but to have a physical calendar would be a quicker and a much easier solution.
Mr. Raushenbush said he chose to be on the School Board in order to “serve people other than himself, “I always wanted to do some form of public service and the school board is local,” he said, and it fits in with the amount of work that he otherwise has. He concluded, “This is my opportunity to do something that benefits others.”
My own speech to the board was as follows.
Hello, my name is Chloë Combes and I would like to discuss the way that dress codes are presented to students in Piedmont’s schools, specifically at Piedmont Middle School and Piedmont High School.
I have previously read through the Dress Code in the Student Handbook for Piedmont High School and there is absolutely nothing unreasonable about it. It requires that students wear shoes, as is mandated by state law; it prohibits students from wearing t-shirts affiliated with unsanctioned social clubs, as well as clothing which reveals undergarments or draws inappropriate attention to the wearer; it prohibits clothing or jewelry which promotes illegal behavior, contains sexually suggestive pictures, slogans, or graphics demeaning to any sex; and prohibits clothing demeaning to any individuals or groups of people. These regulations are in place to prevent disruptive or inappropriate behavior. I firmly believe that our dress code is completely sensible and it should be in place in order to ensure that no teacher or student feels uncomfortable due to another person’s choice in clothing. Our school dress code promotes a safe environment at our schools.
However, I take issue with the way that these dress codes are presented to us. Whenever my classmates and I have had an assembly or had administrators come to our classrooms to discuss the dress code with students, there has certainly been a disproportionate focus on female students. They often tell us we need to cover all the “b’s”: our behinds, our breasts, our bellies, and our bare shoulders. In middle school, we had quarterly assemblies, 12 total, where 10 minutes were dedicated to explaining this to me. That is a total of two hours over my three years at Piedmont Middle School. I agree that wearing clothing that is too revealing can make students, teachers, and administrators uncomfortable, both boys and girls. However, “uncomfortable” is not the word that administrators or teachers use to describe the effects of such clothing choices. Instead, they use the word “distracting.”
Such assemblies or discussions, in my experience, begin at the age of 10. Since I was 10, I have been told my body is distracting and therefore, sexual. I have been made a sexual object that my fellow male classmates are inherently distracted by, and that the blame is on myself. This is called “slut shaming” and objectification. There is no doubt that this promotes a “boys will be boys” mentality. Females learn to view themselves in the eyes of men who supposedly cannot control themselves rather than the female’s own wants and needs. This is called self-objectification and has been proven by the APA to be linked to depression, mental health issues, and eating disorders.
This also has a negative effect on boys, many of whom are still children when these discussions begin. They learn that a female body is a sexual object regardless of context. It teaches them that it is acceptable to disrespect girls and that they are not responsible for their misbehavior. They can blame the female because she is showing too much skin. This is the cause for predatory behavior such as harassment, sexual assault, and victim blaming.
Fortunately, on a day to day basis, I do not see a double standard concerning the dress code at our school. However, there have been some situations which have been unsettling. For example, three weeks ago at our school-mandated pep rally, two men from the water polo team participated in the rally in only their speedos. Almost every member of our school administration was present and yet, to my knowledge, absolutely no punitive action took place. This is not an isolated event. In past years, this same situation has taken place with no administrative response. I was not uncomfortable with the event, but there is no doubt that this was in violation of the school dress code. This tells me that our administration is willing to make excuses for certain members of the student body who, as mentioned before, are men.
Last year, an administrator, who was a woman, came to each class, including my history class and told me the way I dress is the way I present myself to the world and tell people who I am. This, she said, will dictate how people think of me and treat me. What this told me was that if I dress in a certain way, I am no longer entitled to respect from others, neither for myself nor for my body. The way that I, along with my male and female classmates, have been taught about the school dress code has perpetuated rape culture in our schools.
The faculty in our schools need to look at how our dress code is being presented to students, the vast majority of whom are children who are experiencing major changes both mentally and physically. We are impressionable. Both girls and boys need to be taught about our school dress code in a way that does not sexualize the female student body or promote the objectification of women as a whole.
Thank you, Chloe Combes
Editors’ Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author.