After receiving a letter from the ACLU of Virginia last Monday, Menchville High School Principal Caryn Boyd has decided to allow female seniors to wear pants under their robes during commencement exercises and to ease rules on the color of their attire. Female students had complained to the ACLU about the school’s requirement that they wear white or cream colored dresses and shoes, while only requiring males to wear dark pants with a light colored shirt and dark tie.
According to the ACLU, the school’s graduation dress code was based on the outdated notion that females wear dresses and males wear pants. Such stereotyping violates the Fourteenth Amendment’s prohibition against discrimination on account of sex.
The ACLU also said that the original dress policy created a greater financial hardship on females and their families than on males. The dress code for males was based on items most male students already own and contained only general color requirements such as “dark” pants and “light” shirts. Many female students do not own white or cream dresses and shoes, and therefore would be required to purchase those items solely for graduation ceremonies.
In a letter faxed to the ACLU on Friday, Ms. Boyd wrote, “I appreciate the thoughtful approach represented in your letter. After considering the points made, the letter being sent to Menchville graduation candidates will merely encourage (but not require) participants to dress in the manner originally prescribed.”
“It is understandable that school officials want to underscore the formality and gravity of the occasion by imposing dress requirement on students,” said ACLU of Virginia executive director Kent Willis. “But any rule that imposes more restrictive and onerous requirements on females than on males has no place in today’s society. We applaud Principal Boyd for her willingness to address the concerns of the female students at Menchville High School.”
In the ACLU’s letter, faxed to Boyd on May 25, ACLU of Virginia legal director Rebecca Glenberg wrote, “Differential treatment based upon sex is constitutional only if supported by a significant governmental interest, and there is certainly no significant governmental interest in forcing girls to wear white or cream dresses.”

Contact:  Kent Willis, Executive Director, ACLU of Virginia, 804-644-8022

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