Albany school district discriminated against girls wearing sports bras at track practice

ALBANY – The Albany City School District applied its dress code in a discriminatory manner that may have violated the US Constitution when it disciplined students who wore sports bras at a track practice, the New York Civil Liberties Union wrote in a letter to the district Thursday.

The NYCLU asked the district to change its dress code and expunge the suspensions given to 13 athletes last month.

“It appears that District officials have discriminatorily enforced the dress code against girl athletes – and particularly against Black girls and other girls of color – in a manner that reinforces invidious race and sex stereotypes potentially in violation of the Fourteenth and First Amendments to the US Constitution. , Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, and corresponding state and local constitutional and statutory protections,” the NYCLU wrote. “Additionally, the District’s athletic suspensions of the student athletes for wearing sports bras and speaking out against its dress code may run afoul of the First Amendment to the US Constitution and corresponding protections in the New York State Constitution.”

In a written statement, Albany schools Superintendent Kaweeda Adams said the students were not punished for wearing sports bras, but for their “inappropriate behavior” after they were told to put on shirts.

“None of the student-athletes involved in this matter received an athletic suspension because of their attire, or because they expressed disagreement with the portions of our Student Code of Conduct that reference dress code,” she said.

Among the issues cited by the NYCLU is that boys were practicing shirtless while the girls wore sports bras. According to the students, only the girls were told to put on shirts until they complained that it was unfair.

“Until this incident, boys were routinely permitted to practice shirtless. When the girls practiced in their sports bras to prevent heat exhaustion and maintain comfort on a hot day, they were disciplined,” the NYCLU wrote. “Although school officials attempted to impose a similar rule on the boys after the fact, the boys were permitted a chance that girls were not afforded: the opportunity to put on shirts. The girls were summarily ordered to leave the field, and were not permitted to put on shirts or to return to practice in attire that the District deemed acceptable. This is clear nonsense treatment based on sex.”

The school’s dress code is also in the wrong, the NYCLU wrote. NYCLU leaders asked the district to “review its dress code to eliminate provisions that reflect and reinforce gender stereotypes.”

All “underwear,” according to the dress code, must be entirely hidden by outer clothing. District officials said sports bras count as underwear.

But sports bras are “designed and commonly worn as athletic outerwear, during outdoor track and field practice,” the NYCLU wrote.

Students said that in the past, they were routinely allowed to wear sports bras at practice.

The NYCLU also took issue with one of the reasons given for why the students must cover their sports bras with a shirt. The school district athletic director is alleged to have said sports bras could “distract” the male coaches.

“These stereotypes reflect broad and archaic generalizations about boys’ and men’s inability to control their sexual impulses and girls’ inability to make their own decisions about the clothing that makes them safe and comfortable,” the NYCLU wrote. “The district’s policies and practices prioritize boys’ and men’s freedom from hypothetical ‘distraction’ over girls’ autonomy, and physical comfort and wellbeing, causing girl athletes to wear more layers of clothing despite the hot weather to avoid scrutiny and further disciplinary action.”

Changes to the code of conduct, including the dress code, will be reviewed by the school board on July 7, with a vote scheduled for July 21. Student-athletes were invited to meet with the committee on the dress code issue, but did not attend, district spokesman Ron Lesko said. However, administrators brought recommendations to the committee after a meeting with the students.

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