Canada’s largest school board is loosening the rules around what students can wear inside the classroom.

The Toronto District School Board recently approved a new policy that will now allow wardrobe choices that show shoulders, midriffs, neck lines, cleavage, legs, thighs, and hips.

The board has also stipulated that staff members cannot use “subjective discretion” to change the requirements in ways that lead to “discriminatory outcomes, differential treatment or reinforce and/ or increase marginalization or oppression.”

The TDSB acknowledged that in the past, school dress codes have been written and enforced in a way that “disproportionately and negatively” impacts several groups, including female-identified students, racialized students, gender diverse, transgender and non-binary students, students with disabilities, socio-economically marginalized students, and Indigenous students.

“Focused, explicit, persistent and determined action is required to challenge and overcome this history,” the TDSB said in a report posted on its website.

“The student dress policy draws on the principles of equity, anti-oppression, anti-racism, non-discrimination, equitable and inclusive education.”

The board has placed some restrictions on student attire, prohibiting clothing that contains “offensive, lewd, vulgar, or obscene images or language, including profanity, hate and pornography.”

Students must ensure that they wear clothing with opaque material to cover their groin, buttocks and nipples.

The board also noted that undergarments may not be worn as outwear and if worn, they must be “beneath a layer of outer wear.”

Straps and waistbands can be exposed under the new policy and headwear that doesn’t obscure the face is also permitted.

The changes come after lengthy public consultations involving parents, students, education workers, and teachers.

Leslie Wolfe, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation (OSSTF) Toronto, said many of her members voiced concerns that the dress code rules “lagged” behind the board’s own equity policy.

“There was definitely a concern that there was a hyper-sexualization of female and female-identified dress,” she said.

“Anecdotally, we know of three-year-olds being sent home for wearing spaghetti strap tops on a hot summer’s day because it was against the school’s dress code policy.”

She said many teachers also felt like they were spending too much time having to enforce the dress code restrictions.

“There was a concern that teachers and education workers were having to make judgments on appropriate attire and spend precious educational time policing attire as opposed to teaching students,” she said.

Wolfe said while there are likely some who don’t approve of the changes, she and most of her members believe the revised policy is positive.

“It is not really a union’s position to speak to a board’s policy but what I can say is that most of us learn about appropriate dress from our home and our communities and the surrounding circumstances,” she said.

“I believe by allowing students to develop their own sense of right and wrong in this regard that they will show good judgment.”

The new policy will come into effect in September.