Why Parents Are Up In Arms About Online Learning Dress Codes

Back to school time — but, no surprise, it's going to look a little different this year. In many districts, school year 2020/21 is going to start off much the same way 2019/2020 finished off, that is to say, with empty school buildings and students all learning in virtual classrooms (their own homes). Still, that fact hasn't stopped one Illinois school district from attempting to get all up in its students' home-bound business. 

The state's Springfield School District sent out a Student and Family Handbook for the new school year with a dress code that specifically applies to students learning from home. To quote directly from the handbook: "Students Enrolled in Remote Learning ... will be dressed according to the dress code." A dress code that not only prohibits the standard "vulgar, obscene or plainly-offensive language or symbols," but also forbids "pajama pants [and] slippers" and also "coats, jackets, and head coverings." And not only does the handbook attempt to dictate what students will be wearing while at home, at least during school hours, but it also spells out just how it would like those students to be situated: "sitting up out of bed preferably at a desk or table."

How parents reacted to the online learning dress code

Parents, needless to say, weren't too enthusiastic over the school district's attempts to impose new regulations on whatever routines they'd already established back in March. Central Illinois CBS affiliate WCIA reports one parent as saying, "I don't really see how any district can come in and say what my kid can't wear in my house ... I think they have enough to worry about as opposed to what the kids are wearing. They need to make sure they're getting educated." While another parent commented: "They get good grades so worry about teaching not clothes. As long as they are covered up who cares?"

Even Springfield Education Association president Aaron Graves really didn't think the dress code should be the district's main focus. He would prefer to see teachers focus on making sure that their remote students understand the lessons, rather than waste time monitoring their apparel. As Graves stated, "In truth, the whole pajama thing is really at the bottom of our priority scale when it comes to public education ... Raising the bar for all kids and helping them get there, whether they're in their pajamas or tuxedo, is really what's important."

How social media reacted to the online learning dress code

Once the Springfield story broke, Twitter started chirping about it as well. As with the Springfield parents, few actually approved of the policy. One tweet went so far as to call it "a stupidly classist, unenforceable, asinine policy of a school district clenching down for control," while another invited the district to "eat a nice bowl of 'go f**k yourselves'", saying "My home is not their property." Yet another tweet referenced the fact that schools that have re-opened for in-person learning have experienced difficulties that put pajama-wearing to shame (via The New York Times): "Wait they can force a dress code for kids in their own homes doing remote learning but 'can't force' kids to wear a mask inside the school?"

There were a few educators who tweeted in on the topic, and although one complained about having to teach students who showed up on camera in their undies, most said that neither pajamas nor students sitting on their beds would bother them, as long as the students were awake. In fact, the "sitting up out of bed" stipulation from the Springfield SD handbook drew quite a lot of criticism from adults who admitted that their beds are the best place for them, as well as their kids, to do their work. Not every household has sufficient space and furnishings to allow for a private, quiet space for everyone working or studying at home that is anywhere other than a bed.

How the school district responded to the negative reactions

When WCIA initially contacted the Springfield School District to find out just how they intended to enforce the home learning dress code, they received a waffling sort of response: "The policy will be addressed on an individual basis through the Restorative/Discipline Options for Classroom Managed Behaviors ... Generally speaking, there are no definitive one-to-one consequences outlined in our handbook for any disciplinary reason. Incidents of misconduct and subsequent consequences are treated on an individual basis." 

In a further statement made to NBC 5 Chicago, the district seemed to walk back their stance even further. They said: "Our hope is that students approach remote learning as they would in a classroom setting, to the extent possible given each student's individual circumstances." But added that they understood "the interpretation of the dress code in a remote learning environment will differ from a normal school setting," and admitted that "during remote learning our dress code will be flexible." Well, that's a relief. Let the back-to-school pajama sales begin!