This California School Started a "Dress Like a Lady" Rule to Separate Students By Gender

At Valley Charter High School in Modesto, Calif., students don't always follow the dress code. These rules are commonly broken at most schools, but at Valley Charter, the customary punishment — a slap on the wrist — wasn't enough. Instead, they decided to take an extreme stance on the issue by implementing a new program to address the problems.

It's now referred to as "Dress Like A Lady," and stated that freshman and sophomore girls and boys would be segregated by sex in their advisory classes because of complaints about girls not following the dress code. The new program would teach the girls how to "dress like ladies," while the boys would be required to participate in internships with local businesses. According to the principal, the girls' dress code issues needed to be addressed separately — but at the exact same time, the boys would receive invaluable work experience in the community.

In 1972, President Richard Nixon signed Title IX into law, which states that boys and girls must be treated equally in every education program that receives federal funding. Since then, it has been under attack by those who believe treating boys and girls equally in public schools hinders their education, that boys and girls actually need specialized teaching in order to succeed.

A 2006 amendment to the law allows separate facilities or classes for boys and girls, as long as they receive a "substantially equal" opportunities to learn. "Substantially equal" has yet to be formally defined, so many programs have slid under the door despite being horrifically sexist.

According to the ACLU, some of these programs include these aspects:

- Boys need a competitive and confrontational learning environment, while girls can only succeed if they work cooperatively and are not placed under stress;

- When establishing authority, teachers should not smile at boys because boys are biologically programmed to read this as a sign of weakness;

- Girls should not have time limits on tests because, unlike boys, girls' brains cannot function well under these conditions; and

- Boys are better than girls in math because boys' bodies receive daily surges of testosterone, whereas girls don't understand mathematical theory very well except for a few days a month when their estrogen is surging.

These programs are anything but "separate but equal," and sometimes it goes even farther than the traditional classroom setting, such as "Dress Like A Lady."

Evidently, the principal had made this decision without consulting the school district or parents, as Noah Saenz discovered when he told his mother about the new program. He took action, creating shirts with "Teach Kids, Not Stereotypes" emblazoned on them. He and his friends wore the shirts to school, and when the administration noticed, they changed their decision. They said if they were to create sex-segregated classes in the future, it would be voluntary — parents would have to opt their children in with a signed note.

While Saenz earned a huge victory for his school and the quality of education in it, the principal is reportedly still considering implementing the program next year. This is absolutely unacceptable, and illegal. Even though the 2006 amendment to Title IX allows certain sex-segregated programs to exist, the program at Valley Charter High School obviously does not comply.

In what world would boys receiving internships and girls learning how to dress be considered equal, or even "substantially equal"? These children are being separated so they can be given extremely different opportunities, one that benefits boys in the long run and one that teaches girls about female gender stereotypes. Some may think that the change is okay because boys are being built for the workforce, while girls are being prepared to be judged entirely by their looks — two extremely harmful stereotypes to which many fall victim.

The ACLU is one of the most vocal opponents to sex-segregated education where it clearly disadvantages one group of people. Their views are backed up by studies that have shown that sex segregation also increases the instances of sex discrimination. And in Modesto, where 67% of the population is nonwhite, girls in public schools could face further discrimination on a racial basis.

Title IX was put into place to eliminate these stereotype-based programs that the government recently decided to allow again. The vague language in the recent amendment speaks only to their unwillingness to change, to ignore the facts that sex-based education simply doesn't work as it is usually based on harmful stereotypes. A program like "Dress Like A Lady" should never have been conceived: it is dangerous, illegal, and absolutely not equal — not even "substantially."

If the school has the opportunity to give students the opportunity to participate in internships, give it to all of the children. If there's a dress code problem, hold a single meeting with all the students to go over the rules again. There is no reason for sex-segregated programs like this to exist when the dangers outweigh the benefits so heavily.

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Christine Salek

Christine is a writer and perpetual student living in Des Moines, Iowa. Her writing can also be found on Medium, the Gonzaga Bulletin, and ResearchGate.

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