When Nyoka Holmes, a 15-year-old high school sophomore, came home upset about a dress code enforcement day at Alabama’s Huntsville High School, her mother, Kim, knew she had to say something about the policy that she says unfairly targets girls and low-income students.  

Although Nyoka wasn’t one of the students given a warning slip on that August day, she was previously reprimanded for running afoul of the dress code: For wearing jeans with a rip above the knee, she was pulled out of honors math and forced to wait in the office until her mom could bring her another pair of pants.  

Kim Holmes described the dress code as unfair to girls and students from low-income families, who might not be able to afford to buy new clothes every season.

She explained that girls are more likely to be affected by rules related to wearing leggings or the length of shorts or skirts at school, and low-income families may not be able to afford buying new, dress code-appropriate clothing every school season. 

In an email to Reckon, a representative of the Huntsville City School Board, said Kim Holmes’ concerns and suggested policy changes have been shared with the the superintendent and the board attorney.   

“Superintendent Christie Finley is putting together a parent committee to assist in the process of evaluating the dress code.  Once a policy is crafted, with parent input,  it will go to the policy committee. The policy committee is comprised of parents, teachers, and administrators.  They may or may not make additional changes and send them back to the Superintendent.  Once a final product is ready the Superintendent will present it to the board for review. After discussing the policy in a work session, it will be voted on in the following board meeting,” the statement said.

Reckon sat down with Kim and Nyoka to talk about the dress code and why they’re asking the Huntsville City School Board to change it.  

Nyoka, what do you want teachers to know about how the dress code affects students? 

I want teachers to know that it is already hard enough in the morning to pick out an outfit. I wish I didn’t have to stress about being objectified by my teachers. It makes me really uncomfortable. 

I feel like they have such a dated perspective on things. I think everyone’s going to be fine if we are allowed to wear what we want to wear. No one’s going to show up to school in a bikini or something. I feel like they think that if they take away dress code, we’re going to be showing up to school in the most scandalous outfits, which I don’t think is the case at all. 

I feel like they think that they’re sheltering guys from like seeing girls in a way, but they still go to other places where there is no dress code. I feel like that’s setting weird expectations for life. 

Kim, why are you passionate about changing the dress code? 

The enforcement day was really severe. There was an arsenal of parents that were as angry and upset as I was. It just kind of reminded us that this dress codes terrible when they enforce it. Since then, they have completely backed off, but nothing’s changed about the dress code. 

They [school officials] really don’t realize the impact, it doesn’t matter how much they justify it. It’s time for them to take a look at how it’s actually impacted these kids. It stresses them all out. 

I found a couple of school districts around the country that have dress codes that don’t have any mention of shoulders or thighs, and I sent them to the school board. These dress codes no restriction about how much of your legs can show and how much of yourself can show it’s just your basic rules like your undergarments can’t be showing your, your private parts can’t be showing, and nothing worn should be profane or hateful. I think the school board definitely recognized that something needed to be changed, but I think they’re struggling. That’s why I sent them examples, because, you know, they feel like there needs to be some sort of dress code in place. 

Nyoka, What do your friends (girls and guys) at school say about dress code violations?  

I had one friend who had been wearing this skirt to school all year. And then she got handed a (warning) slip. And she just went home. And she’s just like, now I’m embarrassed to wear this. She just didn’t feel good anymore because someone told her it was wrong to wear. It doesn’t make anyone feel good when they say there’s something wrong what you’re wearing. 

On enforcement day, teachers were walking around everybody’s desk and seeing if we were in dress code and that’s just very creepy and unsettling. We were all just very uncomfortable.  

One of my other friends was wearing leggings. And technically, you can’t wear leggings unless your butt is covered. A male police officer made her turn around to see if her butt was showing, and that was obviously very uncomfortable for her. 

Kim, how does the dress code affect low-income students and students from working-class families? 

The school has used the word “professional” before to describe how students should dress, but who defines what’s professional? There’s line workers to wear big jumpers to protect themselves. There’s yoga instructors who wear leggings and sports bra. They’re both professionals. I also hate it when they bring that up because it feels kind of classist. What they mean is a certain kind of profession. 

Many of these kids, they can’t afford to buy a whole other wardrobe for school. What they wear during the summer should also work for school. A lot of the dress code rules can be targeted more to the black students, or even just to the poor kids. There are so many ways in which this can inflame already segregated populations. If you’re poor, you’re already self-conscious about it. And then suddenly, you’re being dress coded.