Air and Dress Codes.

The lack of air conditioning in public schools, and the impact of dress codes on female students.

My daughter was “coded” yesterday. My husband, who is not an educator, demanded a definition of the word, saying: “I don’t know what that means.”

My daughter schooled my husband by informing him that as a seventh grader her shoulders have been deemed distracting. Mind you, not just her shoulders, but all shoulders are now considered inappropriate body parts in many school buildings. Girls’ hot weather apparel and their bodies, in general, are called out more than boys’. There are a few reasons for this double standard. One reason is that boys tend not to wear tank tops as much as girls. A second reason is that the female body, especially the developing adolescent female body, is one of the most overly sexualized images in the American culture. Who are my daughter’s shoulders distracting, exactly? Are the teachers distracted? Are the male students incapable of learning in the 85-degree heat because of my daughter’s body parts?

My daughter was wearing a Nike sports tank top. It fit her well. I actually told her at breakfast that she looked cute. I had no idea that her attire was inappropriate. Rules are part of school and life. I get it. I appreciate most rules. However, dress code rules, especially when schools lack air conditioning and the humidity increases, seem to disproportionately target the bodies of young women.

My daughter attends a rural public middle school in an aged building lacking great ventilation. She learns in classrooms without air conditioning, some rooms without even a fan blowing for relief. My younger daughter attends the adjoining elementary school, where the heat in her classroom caused her to be sick to her stomach for the majority of yesterday. Of course, the administration offices, the library, and the computer lab have air conditioning, but it is too expensive to make the classrooms more comfortable. In fact, that is the reason school leaders give when temperatures rise: “Putting air conditioning in the classrooms is too cost prohibitive.”

For the last several weeks of September, Central New York has been experiencing “Indian Summer.” The record temperatures have reached the high eighties and low nineties, with heat indexes close to 100 degrees. Although many school leaders claim that heat waves are infrequent, especially in Central New York, I can attest that my summer wardrobe frequently is worn during the months of April, May, June, and September. I don’t know if it is Global Warming, or not, I just know that my classroom and the classrooms in my daughters’ district are very stagnant and uncomfortable, especially when the temperatures rise.

I have written about the lack of air conditioning before in a humorous manner. That post is linked below. I am not finding the topic so funny lately. I am fortunate to teach on the first floor of a high school that houses over 1,800 people a day. My colleagues and the students teaching and learning on the upper floors are hot and distracted. Some rooms in the high school where I teach have the blessed cool air — including the library, some science laboratories, the cafeteria, the auditorium, and the administrative and guidance offices — appropriate places for a/c. An even more appropriate location would be classrooms! 


Educational reforms come and go, but the regulation of classroom temperatures, especially in places like Central New York continues to be neglected. Taxpayers should be demanding equitable educational environments — that begins with HVAC. By Friday, the meteorologists predict that the heat wave will end, and classrooms will return to “normal.” However, I know that another string of high temperatures will make classrooms feel like furnaces again, and those in power will not concern themselves with conditions that affect students and “those complaining teachers.” Until schools have parity and equity, more attention will be placed on my daughters’ shoulders than on classroom conditions.


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I write from where I am--a veteran public school teacher, a co-owner of a small business with my mechanic husband, and a mother of two busy daughters.

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