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The Student News Site of West Covina High School

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Students organize district-wide dress code protest

Rachel Leon
Student Austyn Catano participating in the dress code protest by revealing his midriff.

Local Instagram activism account @changewestcovina, with around 2,000 followers, posted a call to action encouraging West Covina Unified School District (WCUSD) high school students to protest against school wide dress code on Friday, Sept. 8. 

Posted on Aug. 28, the post was dedicated to protesting outdated and sexualizing regulations on midriffs. Associated Student Body (ASB), who usually posts spirit days a week in advance, announced a Kings of Cameron spirit day on Thursday night. Edgewood High School and Mt. Sac Early College Academy likewise announced a college apparel spirit day the night before the protest. 

Change West Covina organized the protest following WCUSD school assemblies cracking down on dress code. According to the group’s founders, many of which are composed of WCUSD high school students, hoped that through organizing the protest, students could assemble in solidarity to voice their grievances, creating an open dialogue for the community. 

In contrast to how the dress code is predominantly enforced with females, administrators heavily dress coded male participants and threatened more serious consequences. 

Senior Luis Silva, a protester who wore a crop top, was immediately noticed by security and dress coded while walking with his girlfriend, senior Isabella Alvarado. 

“While Bella was also wearing a crop top even shorter than mine, he didn’t care, he just wanted me. It’s just funny because I’ve been wearing crop tops since sophomore year,” said Silva. 

Principal Dr. Charles Park stated that the number of dress codes handed out on the day of protest was equal to the average amount of dress codes given out on a normal day. Attempts to gain an estimated number of students dress-coded were denied by Student Services. 

While both males and females participated in the protest, students noticed male participants were cited. Around 10:20 a.m, Park escorted senior Jaden Tran to Student Services after he removed his jacket that revealed his crop top. Tran stated that after being escorted, his original shirt and cell phone were confiscated. He was threatened with Alternative Suspension (ATS), which requires assigned students who have violated education code, but not quite pushed into the realm of expulsion, attend an alternative classroom for a varying period of time. 

“I was given a second chance; I was a little bit scared because I didn’t want this to go on my record, but since I didn’t have anything bad on my previous years they allowed me to redeem myself with an apology letter to administration,” said Tran. 

Tran was praised for his participation in the protest while being escorted to Student Services; peers applauded and cheered for him while many filmed. Senior Jared Acosta, a friend of Tran’s, started filming Tran being escorted to student services when Park noticed and requested him to follow him into the office as well. 

Acosta, who was not a participant in the protest, was told he had committed a misdemeanor for filming, as in his video, Assistant Principal Sean McCallon was captured in the video alongside Tran. According to the Student/Parent Handbook, rule EC51512 states: “The use by any person, including a pupil, of any electronic listening or recording device in any classroom without the prior consent of the teacher and the principal is prohibited as it disrupts and impairs the teaching process and discipline in the schools. Any person, other than the pupil, willfully in violation shall be guilty of a misdemeanor. Any pupil in violation shall be subject to appropriate disciplinary action.”

 Acosta wrote a statement of apology and complied when his phone was confiscated and searched. 

“Since it’s school grounds they’re allowed to search your phone. If you do it against your will they do it without your permission, if you do it with them it looks better, so I opened up my phone, went to images and deleted it, and they make you go into your recently deleted and delete it there. They searched my Instagram as well and other social media,” said Acosta. “I didn’t know if it would go on my record, I was scared it would ruin my chances to get into some of the colleges I want to go to,” he continued. 

Eyewitness senior Isabella Martinez shared her opinion on discovering the consequences the two seniors were faced with. 

“I think it’s kind of ridiculous. I mean they’re essentially just threatening guys now, which is weird since they’ve never cared about dress coding males until it came to the protest today. It’s also just kind of weird, like why are guys who show their stomach being given such severe consequences when admin suddenly cares,” said Martinez. 

Male protest participant Matthew Korey De Leon Rivera’s attire that resulted in a dress code violation. Photo by Rachel Leon.

The protest ultimately sparked a dialogue between administration and students involving not only the dress code’s prohibition of bare abdomen, but issues with its enforcement. 

Senior Atiyana Sowell had a conversation with Assistant Principal Michael Rodriguez after school in the quad regarding the underlying sexist, racist, and shameful messaging dress code projects onto teenagers. 

“For a while our dress code had very anti-black things implemented into it… I think that really shows we have come a little bit further, but it’s not enough. We need to keep going in our current direction and not teach students their bodies are something to be ashamed of,” said Sowell. 

While the administration made clear efforts to shut down participants in the protest, not all staff had such a black and white approach. Math teacher Vickie Mach, before the beginning of her fourth period math three class, asked a male participant, Isaiah Hernandez to untie and lower his shirt. Following the exchange resulted in a class discussion between Mach and students.

“I think there’s miscommunication and things could be defined more clearly so that everyone feels like it is a fair system… we want this to be a space for everyone to express their voice so starting with a small committee would be a nice way to do that,” said Mach. 

Student representatives of Change West Covina will assemble with the WCUSD School Board today, at their board meeting, running from 6 p.m. – 8 p.m. to revisit the dress code policy.

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