As if puberty isn’t humiliating enough, the award-winning Noble Charter Schools network of Chicago was recently accused of instituting what several former teachers call “dehumanizing” policies to monitor their high school students.
In addition to boasting high test scores and graduation rates, the schools, which are located in predominantly black and brown neighborhoods, go above and beyond average protocols and uniform requirements. Students’ hairstyles are strictly regulated, belts are required at all times, and periods of silence—even in hallways and during lunch hours—are purportedly arbitrarily insisted upon. But, most strikingly, there is a bathroom policy that requires that students be escorted to the bathroom rather than go on their own.
Of course, for high-school-age girls, the bathroom policy is a particularly humiliating caveat, as it can prohibit them from addressing menstrual emergencies as they arrive. A recent NPR report cited incidents of female students “bleeding through their pants” because they were forced to wait for a bathroom escort who never arrived. As told to NPR reporter Dusty Rhodes by an anonymous student:
We have [bathroom] escorts, and they rarely come so we end up walking out [of class] and that gets us in trouble. But who wants to walk around knowing there’s blood on them? It can still stain the seats. They just need to be more understanding.
In what the NPR article calls an “accommodation,” some campuses are allowing menstruating girls to wear school sweaters around their waists to hide any resulting blood stains on the khaki pants required for their uniforms. To add insult to injury, an administrator then notifies the entire staff so that no demerits are issued for violating dress code.
Because of the efforts of students Nadia Segura, Priscila Bautista and senior Alva Chavez, as well as two female teachers, in October, Noble’s Pritzker College Prep made the more humane step of changing its dress code from the previously mandated khaki pants to black dress pants, stating in an announcement:
Now, it may seem that the only people who will benefit from this change are girls; however, Chavez stated, “I feel like this change will benefit everyone. Although the main cause was the issue of periods [causing girls to bleed through their pants], beige khakis are very easily stained [from other issues], so [black pants] will help diminish the visibility of stains.”
However, it was not only female students who were helped by this initiative; a preliminary survey showed that 58 percent of Pritzker students were without home laundry facilities, making black pants an easier-to-maintain option for all students. And yet there were other concerns raised, such as the cost of replacing current uniforms, and fears that the combination of black pants and Pritzker’s customary gold shirts too closely resembled gang colors in the area.
All of this to avoid simply changing the policy, and allowing students the dignity and autonomy of going to the bathroom alone. While Noble is lauded for the discipline and success of its students—99 percent of its 2017 class was accepted into college—being forced to attend classes in a pool of your own blood (let alone the attendant risks of doing so) might be a minor distraction from the educational process, and where’s the nobility in that? Even some teachers feel that the schools’ policies are unrealistic and repressive to the children they serve; notably, Noble schools have an unusually high turnover rate of instructors. As NPR reported, via an anonymous teacher’s text:
Noble schools want all the submissive and compliant kids or those that are very impressionable. But kids on the South & West Sides [of Chicago] aren’t like that. You don’t survive in those neighborhoods that way. So what do the kids do? They fight the system and act just the opposite of what Noble wants.
One student says it best, “When you treat us like animals, what do you think we are gonna act like?”