Are school dress codes sending the wrong message to girls?

Students and an administration weigh in on a difficult subject

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  • Shoulders exposed and flip-flops are a no-no

  • Shoulders are covered and short length passes the "finger tip test"

  • Camisoles and garments that are excessively brief or do not cover shoulders are prohibited. Some schools also prohibit spandex leggings.

  • Shoulders are covered, pants are appropriate length, sneakers offer support and are not a tripping hazard

Excerpts of local school districts dress code

Goshen Central School DistrictClothing must be clean and modest in nature, provide adequate coverage, and be appropriate for the business-like school setting. For example, all undergarments must be concealed, skin at midriff must be covered, shirts should have sleeves, “short shorts” should not be worn in school, and material must not be of see-through texture. Wording on t-shirts must not include direct or indirect reference to drugs, alcohol, tobacco, violence, or sex.
Warwick Valley Central School DistrictStudents are expected to dress and groom themselves in an appropriate manner. Student must be dressed in appropriate clothing and protective equipment as required for physical education classes, participation in athletics, science laboratories, technology and home and careers skills classes.
Extremely brief or revealing garments such as tube tops, net tops, halter tops, plunging necklines (front and/or back), see-through garments, etc. are not appropriate.
Sparta & Vernon Township Public School DistrictPupils may not wear clothing or engage in grooming practices that present a health or safety hazard to the individual pupil or to others; materially interfere with school work, create disorder, or disrupt the educational program; cause excessive wear or damage to school property; or prevent the pupil from achieving his/her own educational objectives because of blocked vision or restricted movement.
The following garments and articles are prohibited in school and at school-sponsored indoor events:
Extremely low-cut, tight fitting or transparent clothes, bare midriffs, tank tops with thin straps, and suggestive clothing
Skirts, dresses, and pants that are higher than the first knuckle on your hand, when hands are at sides when standing
West Milford Township School DistrictThe dress code is implemented in order to create a reasonable and appropriate learning environment. Certain articles of clothing are prohibited in order to reduce distractions that may inhibit learning.
Some specific guidelines are: Halters, half-shirts, and sweaters and blouses that expose breasts or stomachs may not be worn. Shorts and skirts should not be a distraction. They should not be above extended finger tips. Halter shirts, half shirts, button down or pullover shirts, sweaters, blouses, or sweatshirts that expose any of the following are prohibited: the chest area, stomach area, waist area, and or the small (lower portion) of the back.
Delaware Valley School DistrictWe recognize that school is like a place of business. Further, we recognize that part of one’s education is learning when, where and how to dress appropriately. Therefore, a basic guideline for student dress relies on what is appropriate for a formal, business-like, public school environment.
No clothing should be worn which would distract others from the basic educational purposes of the school, present a safety or health hazard to any student, cause damage to school property, or is deemed inappropriate by the administration.
Bare backs, bare midriffs, pajamas, ultra mini skirts, sleeveless shirts, and tank tops are not appropriate for school. Undergarments should not be showing at any time. Faddish “torn” clothing is prohibited.
Monroe-Woodbury Central School DistrictAll students are expected to give proper attention to personal cleanliness and to dress appropriately for school and school functions. Students and their parents have the primary responsibility for acceptable student dress and appearance. A student’s dress, grooming, and appearance, including hair style/color, jewelry, accessories, make-up and nails, shall:
Be safe, appropriate and not disrupt or interfere with the educational process.
Recognize that garments such as tube tops, net tops, halter tops, loose fitting tank tops, spaghetti straps, strapless clothing, single strap clothing, midriffs (or clothes that expose the midriff), miniskirts, shorts with less than 4 inch inseam, plunging necklines (front and/or back), overcoats, and see-through garments are not appropriate. Students are not allowed to wear the hoods while in school.

By Nina Verissimo

The nuances of enforcing a school dress code fairly remain a hot topic amongst students, faculty, and parents alike.

Forbidding of showing of shoulders,

Mandatory undergarments in which students need to wear (such as bras)

Appropriate lengths of shorts and skirts.

Female students and their parents often say that they are concerned over being treated as a “distraction” to male students.

Elieen Coyle, a 2016 graduate of Delaware Valley High School shared her view of the dress code situation “I understood school dress code as a statement from school officials that students are expected to dress appropriately to prepare them for their adult lives, while teaching professionalism for college, job interviews, etc- and employers judge appearance when hiring people.”

In contrast Karileigh Tretola, a current student of Delaware Valley High said she had mixed feelings about the dress code and its enforcement. “I feel that … girls are definitely more susceptible to being ‘dress coded’ than the guys, although I don’t know that it’s simply just a result of not wanting us to be a distraction” she said. “For example, showing shoulders was an issue, but at the same time teachers wouldn’t yell at male students for sagging shorts.” Could this type of double standard in enforcement be sending the message to female students that they are held to a different standard then their male counterparts?

On the topic of a double standard in dress code enforcement Anna Boese a student of Goshen High said “I’ll think about how I’ve become accustomed to always covering my shoulders, even though when I walk into school I’ll see boys wearing tank tops with armholes so low you can see their entire chest. But I hear stories of other girls who had to change, or cover up, or even go home because the way they dress isn’t how the school wants them to dress.”

Another Goshen student Rowan Moses- Westphal gave a male perspective also suggesting there may be a double standard “While dress codes aren’t bad, and in fact necessary sometimes, they often target women. One of the more common examples is girls being unable to show their shoulders in school. If boys also had to cover their shoulders, that would be fine (ie the school is expecting a more professional look from the students and everyone has to carry it out), but since the majority of the time boys aren’t restricted by a dress code, it’s unfair and detrimental to girls’ learning environments.”

Delaware Valley High School handbook. “Administration will have the final determination on whether the clothing is appropriate. Students who violate the dress code will be asked to change into appropriate clothing. If they do not have appropriate clothing in school, the student will call home to ask a parent/guardian to bring in appropriate clothing. This will serve as a warning and the students will be assigned to the in- school suspension room until they receive the appropriate clothing. Future referrals for violations of the dress code will result in the following: a. First Offense- one (1) Detention b. Second Offense (1) day in-school suspension c. Third Offense- two (2) days in-school suspension”

When asked about the dress code policy Superintendent of Sparta Township Public Schools; Michael Rossi and the Sparta High School’s principal; Janet Ferraro said:

“The perennial dichotomy with student dress code is how current fashion trends stand up against traditional norms in school. Most often teenagers are influenced by what they see on television, movies, and other media outlets. Public schools in particular craft dress codes in a manner primarily designed to keep attention on teaching and learning as opposed to attire. That is a big factor in school uniforms. Students will tell you it is hard to buy clothing that is not ‘current’ and if those trends are not consistent with school policy it is hard to make it work all the time. Hearing from students and parents, along with teacher insights as to what keeps the focus on instruction, is key.”

So the question remains, is there a dress code double standard? West Milford High School’s dress code Dress and Grooming policy begins “A pupils dress, like his/her conduct, is and should be a personal matter. Insistence by the school on rigid conformity is prohibited”. However, when you read deeper into the policy you find mostly discussions of halter tops, tanks, and shirts that show the small of the lower back, seemingly directed more towards female student’s attire.

In September of 2017 NBC’s TODAY surveyed 17,000 individuals regarding schools having a student dress code, and 71% of people surveyed agreed schools should have some form of dress code.

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