The Elk Grove Unified School District board last month approved a new dress code aimed at creating a more consistent approach to student clothing and rectifying disproportionate impacts on female students and students of color.

The previous policy was last revised in the 1990s, and it “provided limited specifics” to schools, focusing mainly on uniforms, Mathew Espinosa, the district’s educational equity program specialist, told the trustees at their Sept. 21 regular meeting.

“What that led to over time is a wide range of variation — variation in dress code policies at our different school sites, but also variation in the implementation, the purpose, the approach to addressing dress and grooming issues,” he said.

District data also showed that African American, American Indian and Hispanic students were disproportionately likely to be disciplined for dress code violations. Among the same three groups, there were school years when male students were more likely to receive violations. Female students who are African American, American Indian, Filipino or white had years in which they were disproportionately cited.

The board voted 6-1 to approve the revised policy, with Trustee Nancy Chaires Espinoza voting against it.

With the revisions, the dress code provides a framework against which each school will compare its existing dress code. As a core principle, it posits that dress rules should be equitable. It also states that enforcement of the policy should minimize conflict and promote learning, such as through conversations and lowering barriers to comply with the rules.

Calls for change last year led the district to create a task force with representatives from staff, the school board, students, and family and community members.

Weeks before the new policy was presented, four people, including two students and the owner of an Elk Grove bookstore, asked for a gender-neutral and inclusive dress code. The then-current policy allowed girls to be held responsible for the thoughts and actions of their classmates, the public commenters said.

Cosumnes Oaks High School junior Tinsae Birhanu spoke at the Sept. 7 board meeting about seeing “young girls being shamed for how they dress by teachers and admins to others being removed from class just because their attire wasn’t appropriate.”

“I encourage you (the school board) also to urge the entire school district to no longer enforce dress codes that have not met the standard of being universal and equal, and that we put a rush on the dress code,” said A Seat at the Table bookstore co-owner Emily Autenrieth in acknowledging the work on the revision.

After Espinosa presented the new policy on Sept. 21, Trustees Espinoza and Gina Jamerson expressed concern that the policy is not specific enough, which could continue to allow subjective enforcement.

“What I’m hearing is that the plan is not really to solve that subjectivity issue,” Espinoza said.

She said the specifics of the plan would be worked out as the task force develops administrative regulations based on the board policy.

“We’re talking about what does it mean to cover undergarments, and what if a piece of a bra strap is showing,” Espinosa told the Citizen in an interview, as an example of what topics the task force would address.

Joel Boyd, vice president of the EGUSD Parent Coalition and a member of the dress code task force, said in an interview what he thought a successful implementation would mean, especially for African American students.

“What it would look like is that you would see a decrease in dress code violations and also an overall impact on the overall disproportionate discipline of African American kids,” Boyd said. He said students shouldn’t lose learning opportunities by being removed from class because of their clothes.

“The school district needs to do better,” Boyd said. “I think this is a step in the right direction.”