Oak Park and River Forest High School continues to ramp up its efforts to provide a more welcoming and inclusive school to the full range of its students. In just the past several days we have seen interesting initiatives on multiple fronts.
The school board last week adopted recommendations from an ad hoc gender equity committee that will extend full protections and support for transgender students, gender-nonconforming students, and students questioning their gender identity. These are issues that in other communities foster rage and division. But in our villages, with values of inclusion that we have discerned and nurtured over decades, the changes are simply the next step in recognition of differences as our basis of strength and purpose.
The new policy addresses issues of restroom and locker room use, overnight school trips, the use of names and pronouns. And it puts in place specific support services for students and families to access.
Meanwhile, the school board is considering proposed easing of the school’s dress code. The goal is to ease tension over enforcement of aspects of the code that appear to focus on black students. Specifically, the ban on hoodies and hats would be removed. Nathaniel Rouse, the principal, said that concerns from earlier years that clothing choices were a method of signaling gang involvement have receded and the residue is angst over hard-to-enforce restrictions on clothing choices popular with some students.
OPRF is not alone among area high schools actively rethinking their dress codes. The Journal’s sister paper in Forest Park has reported on student-led proposals to eliminate uniforms in the Proviso Township high schools. Rouse pointed to dress code changes at Evanston Township High School, a district OPRF frequently observes.
Also under consideration is the curtailing of the requirement that all students, at all moments of the day must hang their ID about their necks. While implemented in the interests of school security a number of years ago, listen to students and you hear endless agitation over their perception that the school feels as if it is on permanent lockdown.
We’re supportive of these thoughtful efforts to improve the learning and living climate within our high school. The administration, staff, students, volunteers and the board are to be thanked for understanding that the learning environment hinges on students feeling respected and on being held accountable for things that matter.