I came across a news story a few days ago, about a high schooler here in GA that has run into trouble for the way he dresses. Apparently Jonathan Escobar, a 16 yr old student transferring from a Florida school, prefers to wear wigs and women’s clothing. This has caused a bit of an uproar in his public high school, and the school officials have told him to dress more normally or stop coming to school.
Escobar objects, stating that how he chooses to dress is simply a part of who he is, and that the school’s ultimatum is discriminatory. The school points out that it is clearly stated in the school handbook that students should “refrain from any mode of dress which proves to contribute to any disruption of school functions”, and Escobar’s manner of dressing has definitely proven distracting to the other students. (Apparently it caused a fight between other students in the short 3 days that Escobar attended classes.)
I am a little divided on this issue. When I first heard about it, I was fully in support of Jonathan Escobar. It takes guts to be that different in High School, especially when you are new and don’t know many people. Whatever Escobar’s reasons for his choices, I think it’s a positive thing to introduce more diversity to the High School setting, and to shake up the social status quo a little bit. Though many disagree with me, I think more awareness and social acceptance of gender issues is in general a very good thing. So when I heard about this story, I was ashamed of the school officials and wanted to learn more about the situation.
It didn’t take long for me to change my thinking in this particular case. While I still support Escobar’s choice of style if that’s what he prefers, I’m not so sure he has a right to dress that way at school. The school officials are correct: the rules very clearly state that any clothing “which proves to contribute to any disruption of school functions” is off-limits, and no matter what the mode of dress may be, if it’s disruptive it has to go. No doubt this school, like every public school I know of, has a dress code that restricts students from wearing clothes that are overly revealing, that have profane images or slogans, or (in many schools) are deemed to be typical of gang activity. Sometimes there is a judgment call to be made, but all students must adhere to these rules, no matter their color, size, gender or sexual orientation. Why, in this case, should Escobar be any different?
I’d say, if Jonathan Escobar wants to continue wearing “skinny jeans and “flats”, that should be just fine. Once the news hubbub dies down it shouldn’t be too distracting to the other students. Probably he can even get away with dramatic makeup, within reason. However, I think the school is completely correct to enforce the dress code, which probably means he has to ditch the wigs and hats. This is school, after all- not a local teen hangout where kids are really free to express themselves through clothing choices. The school’s handling of the matter lacks finesse and sensitivity (they told him to dress “more manly”), but in essence I think they’re on the winning side here. If Escobar wants to express his “Art” through how he dresses, that’s fine anywhere else- but at school, he is a student like any other, and must obey the rules just like the rest of them.
Am I clueless here? After all, what if a muslim student wished to go to school in a full burka, and it caused disruption? (Is that even remotely analogous?) Check out the article to read more on the story, and tell me what you think.
P.S.- I like how casually the school told Escobar that he should homeschool. It might be a bit insensitive, but I think it’s fairly indicative of how widely accepted homeschooling has become in Georgia. Besides, they might be right: an assertive, freethinking alternative individual might indeed be better served by directing their own education rather than trying to squeeze into the public school mold. But that’s just my own bias coming out. ;-)
2 days ago