Students Defy Gender Norms to Protest Clovis Dress Code

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Boys wear dresses to Buchanan High School in protest of the Clovis Unified School District's decision not to update its decades-old dress code. (Courtesy Mariah Crespin)

In the small city of Clovis northeast of Fresno, high school students are protesting their district's decision not to update its controversial, decades-old dress code.

The code forbids boys from wearing earrings or keeping their hair below their earlobes. A proposed update would have set the same standards around hair and jewelry for both boys and girls, and would have removed language saying skirts and dresses are for girls. Last Wednesday, Clovis Unified trustees voted 4-3 against updating the policy.

Numerous students at Buchanan High responded to that decision by defying gender norms with their outfits, the Fresno Bee reports:

Buchanan High School senior Patrick Smart wore a dress for the first time last week. His classmate, Emma Sledd, wore a collared men’s shirt to school.

"The reason we switched gender norms for the day was to make the statement that what we wear does not define us as students," Sledd said. "Our district’s dress code should not favor or discriminate any gender. We believe everyone should be able to express themselves equally. A boy with long hair is no less of a hard worker than a girl with long hair."

Sledd, a senior, was joined by a few of her female classmates in wearing stereotypically boyish attire, and tweeted: "If we can dress like them, they can dress like us."


Changes to the Clovis Unified dress code were proposed not long after Buchanan High student William Pleasant's claims last summer that he'd been prevented from enrolling for his senior year because his hair extended past his earlobes and shirt collar.

Pleasant wrote a letter to the Fresno Bee about the dress code. His family got in touch with the ACLU, which argued to Clovis Unified officials that the dress code violates state laws against gender discrimination because it has different standards for boys and girls.

In a blog post responding to the district's decision to leave the dress code in place, ACLU staff attorney Abre’ Conner writes that Clovis Unified has “defied reason and the law” in refusing to update the dress code.

The district has also tangled with the ACLU because it taught abstinence-only sex education and denied a Native American student’s request to wear an eagle feather in his graduation cap.