United States: Body Conscious In The Right Way: Independent School Policies That Focus On Student Wellbeing (9/17/2019)

Last Updated: September 24 2019
Article by Susan E. Schorr

Published September 17, 2019

Many people think of August as a time of summer leisure activities, but for those of us who support independent schools, August and early September are among the busiest times of the year, even when students are not yet back on campus. Yes, it’s student handbook revision time! While drafting policies may not sound like everyone’s idea of summer fun, I do think it is one of the best ways to become acquainted with a school’s culture. Both the tone and of course the content of a student handbook are indicators about how a school promotes student health and wellbeing.  This article will review some approaches that stand out and highlight other areas where schools might want to consider focusing more attention.


By now, schools recognize the danger posed by concussions, and most handbooks we review include robust policies that address concussion prevention, management, and clearances for permitting return to play and study.  One area receiving less attention is the other stressors on developing bodies, with young student athletes expected to participate both in school and external club teams to enhance their chances of being recruited or admitted by a university. As a recent article in the Boston Globe put it, “Sports medicine specialists say they try to encourage enthusiasm for youth sports, which are beneficial for young bodies and minds. But they want to help kids avoid injuries and burnout, and to understand the reality: A small percentage of young athletes will be recruited to play at college, and a vanishingly small fraction make it to a professional level.”

Independent schools can play a part in helping to reduce “overuse injuries” by sticking to the traditional seasonal approach to athletics (for example, field hockey in the fall, squash in the winter, softball in the spring), as moving the body in a variety of ways can mitigate against harm done by repetitive motion. Athletic trainers and coaches need to understand which types of exercises are a good match for the age of the student and enforce rest days. Schools can also discourage absences from their own physical education programs (to permit participation in club teams or other specialized training), except for the (usually rare) instances where a young athlete is exceptionally talented.

No doubt students and parents will resist such restrictions, feeling pressure to do whatever it takes to succeed in youth sports. Independent schools can help families set realistic expectations and refocus the discussion (and policy) on what is in the best interest of a developing athlete’s overall wellbeing.

Dress Codes

Another development in handbooks: dress codes have become increasingly gender neutral. Whether motivated by an effort to be more inclusive, or a heightened awareness of gender fluidity on campus, or because a school is in one of the approximately 20 states that prohibit discrimination or bullying based on gender identity, independent schools are looking for ways to increase the comfort level of all students. Some schools still divide the code into boys and girls sections, but others simply state that all students should avoid clothes that are sexually revealing, need to be laundered, or that advertise illegal activity for minors (drinking and drug use, for example). Some still refer to skirt length and that tops with spaghetti straps should be avoided, but those guidelines are now often applicable to students regardless of how they identify on the gender spectrum.

Back to athletics, some recent examples illustrate how policies apparently aimed at modesty and appropriateness have the inadvertent result of body shaming athletes, particularly females. Such policies may also perpetuate the trope of women as temptresses and males as unable to control themselves around scantily clad young women. For example, earlier in September, an accomplished high school swimmer was disqualified from a competition because her one-piece, standard issue, racer back swimsuit had crept up on her during competition, exposing too much of her backside. The student’s victory in the race was reinstated, and the story has raised awareness about the “reality of how modern swimsuits fit the physique of high-level athletes when they’re performing,” according to a CNN article republished by the Mercury News.

As for sports bras, folks are talking anew about the propriety of wearing them without a shirt over them, thanks to the American women’s victory in the soccer World Cup in 2019, harkening back to the iconic photograph of Brandi Chastain’s victory celebration 20 years earlier. From the world stage to independent schools, last year, a high school senior from California expressed her frustration with her school’s justifications for discouraging girls on the cross country team from running in just a sports bra, even on hot days. In an article for the Lancer, a young woman rejected her coach’s reliance, again, on a modesty argument, and asserted that not permitting girls to train in sports bras only, “conveys to the girls on the team that their bodies are inherently more shameful than the bodies of the boys on the team. It is reinforcing the idea that girls should give up their rights to equal treatment to account for the immature response specific boys have to women’s bodies. Finally it is teaching the boys on the team that they do not need to learn to constrain themselves when they have unreciprocated attractions.”   

Independent schools need to evaluate what is right for their culture when it comes to the dress code, both on and off the field; however, these examples will hopefully challenge athletic directors and deans of students to re-examine the assumptions that have historically been woven into the fabric of school policies addressing attire. Count the puns, I dare you!

Sexuality and Consent

If you think sports bras are a controversial topic, how to address adolescents and sexuality provokes even more discussion and, of course, understandably so, given the serious consequences—from physical harm to criminal charges—that may result from an encounter gone wrong or that should never have happened in the first place. 

Student handbooks range from not addressing this topic at all, to detailing relevant state statutes that cover the age of consent; in states with “Romeo and Juliet” or “close in age” exceptions to statutory rape laws, some handbook policies also make clear when consent can never be granted.  Virtually all handbooks that include a section on intimacy and sexuality indicate that such conduct between students is not condoned on school campuses or at school-sponsored events; but policies also recognize that for many teenagers, it may be developmentally appropriate—or at least inevitable—for students to experiment with levels of intimacy. Some policies—particularly for boarding schools—suggest referrals to the student health center where students can obtain information about reproductive health. Another policy angle is to ban public displays of affection, as they may make other school community members feel uncomfortable.

Many independent schools were founded on religious traditions and an open discussion of sexuality runs counter to the school’s ethos. And publication of a policy in a school handbook may draw undue attention to the subject. Schools with access to counselors, psychologists, and a school nurse may feel more at ease in addressing student sexuality, especially with input from these trained professionals. The challenge in crafting such a policy is to recognize the realities of adolescence, while helping students set appropriate boundaries for themselves. A lot to ask of a student handbook, but a well-drafted policy can help enhance student health and wellbeing.

*          *          *

Changes in the types of policies described here are as much a matter of checking in on statutory and regulatory changes, as they are on polling community stakeholders, including students, parents, faculty, staff, and the board, about what makes sense for an independent school community today. These conversations may take time, but the resulting policy updates—or a decision to maintain a particular tradition—will then be informed by thorough analysis. All an education attorney can ask of her clients.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
In association with
Related Topics
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Related Articles
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Mondaq Free Registration
Gain access to Mondaq global archive of over 375,000 articles covering 200 countries with a personalised News Alert and automatic login on this device.
Mondaq News Alert (some suggested topics and region)
Select Topics
Registration (please scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions