Students can dress to match their gender identity, Portage school district says in revised dress code

PORTAGE, MI — Portage Public Schools is revising its dress code to affirm students’ rights to dress how they see fit.

The Portage Board of Education discussed a revised policy Monday, March 21, that would acknowledge in writing students’ existing rights to match their clothing to their gender identity.

Superintendent Mark Bielang said the proposed revision to the policy simply affirms in writing what the district has been practicing all along, as required by the law.

“I want to make sure that (students) feel it’s a safe and welcoming environment,” the superintendent said. “It’s aligning our policies with our practices.”

Previously the district policy did not acknowledge gender identity. The administration proposed the changes on the advice of NEOLA, an educational consulting firm that helps schools keep policies in compliance with current laws, Bielang said.

The district is already prohibited by Title IX from discriminating against transgender and gender nonconforming students, but the law does not require the language in the dress code policy.

“Our policy was silent to that effect until this language came in,” he said. “It acknowledges that students do have these rights, and we aren’t going to violate your rights.”

The board is expected to vote on the revised policy at its next meeting Monday, April 11.

District spokesperson Michelle Karpinski said the school has had transgender students in the district previously, and has always allowed students to match their clothing with their gender identity.

Students still have to be in compliance with the other rules in the dress code, including those that prohibit clothes, accessories or hairstyles that cause a distraction. Each building principal sets their own rules for dress codes, she said.

Bielang said the revision is in line with the board’s goals of inclusion.

“This ties into what our board said is important and that is to really understand cultures and individuals who are different than our own,” he said.

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