Respect Diversity + Inclusion

Virginia bill targets discriminatory hair and dress codes

kids study at school
Research shows charter schools do a better job of closing the achievement gap for minority students in urban areas than traditional public schools. Congress in 1994 passed a law to increase the number of charter schools available to students across the United States. iStock

Story at a glance

  • Schools all over the country are reconsidering their dress and grooming codes after recent controversy.
  • A new Virginia bill would regulate dress codes and any imposed punishments.
  • The bill protects religious, ethnic and culturally specific styles from discrimination.

As a national debate roils over school dress codes, the newly Democrat-led state of Virginia is considering a bill that would require school dress codes to accommodate religious, ethnic and culturally specific styles as well as remaining gender neutral. 

“It is unconscionable that we’re pushing Virginia students out of school based on the way they wear their hair and the way they dress. When we push them out of school, we’re making it harder for them to graduate and live up to their fullest potential,” said Del. Carroll Foy, who introduced the bill in the House of Delegates this year. 

Girls of color, especially black girls, are forced to leave school at 5.5 times the rate of white girls, according to a release from Foy’s office, which the delegate credits to unnecessarily strict and harsh dress codes. The bill specifically addresses “headwraps, braids, locs, and cornrows,” styles generally worn by black students, as well as religious headwear such as hijabs and yarmulkes. 

“Instead of subjecting students – especially young women of color – to discrimination in their own schools in the form of these dress codes, we should be supporting them to be their best, truest selves,” Foy said in the release. 

Schools cannot punish students for dress or grooming reasons unless they are specifically outlined in the code of student conduct, the bill says, and those codes cannot be enforced by direct physical contact with a student or a student’s attire or requiring the student to undress in front of any individual. The proposed bill also requires dress and grooming codes to be specific, eliminating language such as “distracting,” “provocative” or “inappropriate” that can be subject to interpretation. 

If the bill, which was passed by the House of Delegates, passes the state’s senate, Virginia would join a slew of other cities and states enacting legislation to combat hair discrimination.