Students protest restrictive dress code as temperatures rise



Hadia Ahmad, Natomas Pacific Pathways Preparatory

Some Natomas Pacific Pathways Prep High School students are striving to change what they say is a “sexist” dress code through protests and petitions, but the NP3 administration has yet to change any rules. 

On Sept.10, senior Ayacaxtli Galvis-Torrez posted on her Instagram “Next week the weather will be in the high 90s and 80s which means another hot week in Sacramento, how can we pay attention in class if we are sweating our a**** off?”  

Galvis-Torrez continued the post by urging students to make signs, sign a petition and fight to abolish a “racist, sexist, and overall unnecessarily strict dress code.”

After this was posted, many students reposted it in hopes of getting the word out. The post had almost 200 likes.

On Sept. 12,  NP3 administrators sent out an email to parents stating, “We are aware that some students are planning to break the school dress code this week. We ask for your cooperation and support in talking with your child about the student dress code expectations and encouraging them not to participate.”

The email concluded by praising students who abide by the dress code. It stated that if 90 percent of students abide by the dress code, then the two days of midterms (Oct. 24-25) will be no dress-code days.

Consequences for not following the dress code include having to change clothing temporarily with clothing provided on campus or calling home to get clothes dropped off. 

“Well, as I figured due to the school sending out emails, many of our students are in fear of getting in trouble,” Galvis-Torrez said. “We’re afraid of being punished for asking for a very basic request, which actually is something that we can easily earn. … Because just before the protest even happened, they already were announcing two days of dress code free for comfort for everyone at school, if only we obliged by their rules on it.”

Senior Aiden Grover took part in the protest and petition.

“The protests, honestly, we didn’t get much from that,” Grover said. “But the petition definitely helped more, because we have upwards of 60 signatures now, which is great.”

Grover was referring also to a separate dress code protest that happened June 3 at Performing and Fine Arts Academy (PFAA) High School, which is part of Natomas Charter School. 

“Students heard about an assembly that was going to take place regarding dress code restrictions and decided to wear crop tops that same day to protest the sexist rules,” PFAA senior Autumn Rae Co said. “Why were we all wearing the same thing but only ‘curvier’ girls (were) getting dress coded and sent home? 

According to Co, during advisory, a group of students participated in a walkout to the middle of the school writing phrases across their stomachs, shoulders, and chests questioning whether their bodies were distracting. There were also signs posted across the campus.

“This prompted a conversation with admin and students,” Co said, “and slight changes were made to the dress code for the 2021-2022 school year.”

Grover said he is hopeful the petition and protest at NP3 will help change things for the better.

“I have hopes that it will do something because we are a law-based school and it has been reinforced (by) petitions,” Grover said. “Do something – if you say something about a law, and it being unjust, more than likely, it has a potential to get somewhere. … And so the petition is a good way to start the conversation with people in power.”

Tom Rutten, the executive director of all NP3 schools and the creator of the dress code, said he thought the protest and petition were pointless.

“I spent very little time on that,” Rutten said. “I thought there were some students who just wasted their time. People didn’t pay much attention. I think most of our students realize that what we’ve got is pretty darn good, and this is a great environment in which they come to school – and a dress code just isn’t a major issue.”

Rutten said a more effective approach would have been for students to take their concerns to the school board.

“Do it the right way,” Rutten said. “(Students) have a student board member who represents all 1,600 students, and he has a voice with our board, he has a voice with me, he represents all of you and it ought to be through him with those concerns and voice.”

Students need to know, Rutten said, the purpose of the dress code.

“Safety is one, we need to be able to identify our students,” Rutten said. “It is also part of the learning process of what we expect in life. Many many jobs have dress expectations, employers are going to have expectations, if you happen to be an attorney and you walk into a courtroom the judge is going to have expectations, if you take a job at In-N-Out, they are going to tell you how to dress.

“It adds a seriousness to the work. And it’s just those life skills.”

Rutten disagrees that the dress code targets girls.

“It is absolutely gender-neutral, we were focused on that,” he said. “Given who we are as a school, I think that’s very, very important. Going back years ago, that comment would be absolutely true, but it’s not now.”

For Rutten, the complaint amounts to a few students being louder than the vast majority who are following the dress code.

“I truly appreciate the 98 percent of our students that every day are in dress code and do it really well,” Rutten said. “I’m proud of NP3.”

High school teacher Melissa Rose Ciubal says that, “I think that it has come a long way. I have been here for 10 years and I think that the language is more reflective now of what the students’ needs are and the specific dress code is a lot clearer and meets students’ rationales more”

Ciubal added, “ As a drama teacher I know that what you wear can also really affect how you act and how you behave so if you’re wearing more professional garb you’re more likely to act in a professional way in the same way you put on a costume and you become a character… however i do see why some students don’t feel the need for the dress code.”

High school teacher Eric Jones has been at NP3 for 15 years, and he thinks the protests and petition were overblown and hypocritical.

“In the first week of school, you receive a first-aid packet,” Jones said. “And in there, there is the student handbook. And at the end of that student handbook, we ask for your signature and your parent’s signature, and once you have signed that you have agreed to the rules and policies of our school, so to protest what you have already agreed to do seems like hypocrisy… if you’ve already agreed to a thing, you’ve kind of lost the right to protest it.”

Jones said the dress code is a topic that has come up often during his teaching career, including a few years ago with his advisory class when the class discussed how clothing expresses identity.

“I kind of pushed back on that, because I said, ‘Well, yes, if you design the clothes, if you grew the cotton, if you weave the clothes, if you sew the clothes, then yes, it is saying something about you. Because it is truly a manifestation of your creativity,’” he said. 

But the same is not true if you buy something off the rack, he continued. 

“I think teenagers place so much emphasis on externality. My exterior is the thing that defines me. But a school specifically is to celebrate your interiority, to celebrate your intellectualization, to celebrate your heart and your mind. So the more that we spend any moments talking about external things, the cut of your cloth, that’s time away from what we ought to be doing. So that was when I started wearing the same thing every day because I’m still me, no one has ever confused me for anyone else.”

For Jones, it’s simple – students should see the bigger picture.

“I’m not defined by that which Levi’s says I should be defined by,” Jones said. “I’m defined by what I think and what I feel and what I speak. That’s what’s the value. The cut of my shoes is not important. Let it go,” he said, adding,  “If we spend as much time and energy on preparing to come to school as we did preparing what to wear to school, we would be fundamentally better as students, as learners and as citizens in the world.”