A 45-year-old Hiroshima woman recently sent a text message to the Chugoku Shimbun newsroom that read: “A dress code at the elementary school my son goes to specifies that boys must wear shorts. Some students in higher grades feel embarrassed about exposing their legs. Isn’t the shorts-only dress code out of date?”
Her complaint raises further questions: Who decides what one can wear to school? And what is a school dress code in the first place?
The public school in question, as a general rule, has a dress code requiring boys to wear shorts. Students can wear long trousers only when they are sick, and doing so requires a note from a parent.
“There are some schools with dress codes allowing pupils to wear long pants at the discretion of parents. Why is there inconsistency?” the woman said.
According to the Hiroshima Board of Education, a dress code, or “kijunfuku” in Japanese, is different from a school uniform, the latter of which requires students to wear specific clothes, while a dress code merely exemplifies a standard on what kind of clothes are “desirable to be worn” by students. None of the public schools in Hiroshima have uniforms.
So is it up to each school to decide their dress code? Surprisingly, the answer is no.
“Parents collectively determine the dress code, incorporating feedback from their schools,” said Shigenori Yamagoshi, the education board’s general affairs director.
As far as enforcement goes, Yamagoshi said, “It is inappropriate for a school to unilaterally decide on a dress code and make it a rule.”
In the fiscal year that ended in March, the Chugoku Shimbun surveyed all 142 schools in the city. Of the 128 that responded, 82 schools, or 64 percent, said they have a dress code — out of which 73 schools, or about 90 percent, said they recommend boys wear shorts.
Regarding pants, 14 out of the 73 schools said students can wear them whenever they want, while 48 schools, or more than 60 percent, set a condition that students can wear long pants “only if they are sick and have a note from legal guardians.” Thirty-four schools say students are allowed to wear long pants on cold days. Multiple answers were allowed in the survey.
The schools in the survey said that, in general, parents collectively determine a dress code. At the same time, they are not sure whether their Parent Teacher Association is involved in such discussions. Regarding enforcement, many schools said they have not discussed a possible revision.
It is entirely plausible that because of a lack of awareness, parents falsely believe that schools unilaterally determine a dress code, making it a de facto school uniform.
But despite a lack of awareness on the part of many, parents have been involved in the process of deciding a dress code before. At Kasugano Elementary School, which opened nine years ago in Hiroshima’s Asaminami Ward, that proved to be challenging.
A woman involved in the process reflected that “it was incredibly difficult for me to make everyone understand that there are differences between school uniforms and dress codes.”
It is difficult to universally specify which clothes children can wear to school.
“Every time I see my son going to school wearing shorts in cold weather shivering, I wonder why it is impossible to dress according to the weather,” a guardian of another public elementary school student said.
Every child reacts differently to variable weather conditions. Along those lines, some girls who feel uncomfortable wearing skirts might prefer to wear long pants.
In the end, parents collectively need to understand that they are primarily tasked with deciding what clothes children can wear to school. Concerns and dissatisfaction can be resolved through discussion.
In doing so, the hope is that parents and schools can come up with a standard that is flexible to each child’s needs, both physically and psychologically.
This monthly feature focuses on topics and issues covered by the Chugoku Shimbun, the largest newspaper in the Chugoku region. The original article was published on May 9.