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Virginia school district drops proposed cross-dressing ban

A Virginia school district dropped a proposed ban on cross-dressing by students.

References to gender-specific clothing have been removed from a proposed student dress code, which was first considered on Feb. 9. The Suffolk School Board is scheduled to consider the revised dress code on Thursday.

The original version proposed by Superintendent Deran Whitney would have explicitly banned “clothing worn by a student that is not in keeping with a student’s gender and causes a disruption and/or distracts others from the educational process or poses a health or safety concern.”

The school board claimed that it was necessary to protect students from being bullied or harassed for wearing gender nonconforming clothes.

Virginia school district considers ban on cross-dressing

Civil liberties groups said the proposed ban was too vague and discriminated against students based on their gender. The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia said that, rather than banning the “nonconforming behavior,” schools should instead address the bullying or harassment.

The initial Suffolk proposal didn't prescribe a uniform for students, but instead aimed to prohibit “sexually suggestive or revealing attire,” spandex, ripped clothes, sagging pants, short skirts, sleepwear, open-toed shoes, sunglasses, head coverings unless worn for religious or medical purposes, and clothes advertising alcohol or illegal substances.

The revised dress code includes all the previous prohibitions, except for the one referencing gender-specific clothing, whose language has now been changed to ban "any clothing worn by a student that causes a substantial disruption and/or substantially distracts others from the educational process, or poses a serious health or safety concern."

“By abandoning the original policy, the school has properly recognized that students cannot be disciplined for failing to conform to gender stereotypes,” ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis said in a written statement Monday. 

Willis added that there are concerns that the new policy may be the old one dressed up in a different language to deflect a legal challenge.

“If the new proposal is adopted on Thursday," his statement read, "we’ll be asking students and parents to closely monitor its implementation to make sure it is not applied in a way that discriminates based on gender or sexual orientation."

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