Community Middle School’s dress code policy has provoked widespread concerns among students, including a petition started by a group of eighth-grade girls. The policy has sparked conversation at North and on social media about girls’rights.
On April 15, CMS administrators sent an email to all parents saying that “clothing that disrupts or inhibits education” is not permitted at school. The list of banned clothing includes tank tops, sleeveless shirts, headbands and bandanas; clothing used in “highly physical or out-of-school activities”; clothing that shows midriff or back “due to actions associated with routine physical tasks such as sitting, raising a hand [or] reaching”; skirts, dresses and shorts that do not extend to the mid-thigh; and leggings worn with a top that does not extend to the thigh.
But the dress code has not formally changed, according to Vice Principal Guyler Tulp. “We [send an email] every year, when the weather starts getting warm,” Tulp said. The guidelines are in the code of conduct that students are required to sign at the beginning of the year. Sixth-grade math teacher Pamela Scott added that the policy has existed for years but has never been truly enforced.
However, this year students say teachers are now enforcing the rules. “Teachers started to be very strict about the little things,” eighth grader Miriam Lubin said. Lubin and a group of eighth graders started a Change.org petition last month asking the administration to revise the dress code; the petition received more than 300 signatures in two weeks. Junior Miriam Li, one of dozens of North students who signed the petition, said, “This dress code is just another example of CMS telling girls they need to cover up more so that the boys will be able to learn without being distracted by their sexual shoulders and legs.”
Eighth grader Tara Gideon, one of the girls who spearheaded the petition, says teachers have told students to change, reprimanded them for wearing bows that are “distracting to their face,” and claimed that they are “selling themselves.”
Every CMS teacher interviewed for this article said the dress code is justified. “School isn’t a beach,” said Nicole Bolognini, who teaches sixth-grade social studies. Brittany Ku, a seventh-grade math teacher, said she attributes the increased offenses to the fashion industry. Crop tops and sheer tops are “in style,” but that does not make them “school-appropriate,”she said.
“Leggings aren’t pants,” sixth-grade math teacher Taylor Sternoti added. “They’re meant to be worn under something.”
“[Boys] need to be focused on their academics, not what the cute girl in row two is wearing,” Scott said. Tulp cited dress code violations as a “health and safety” problem.
But many students take issue with the philosophy behind the dress code. “Not only does it teach girls to be uncomfortable with our bodies and that we should feel the need to cover up in front of people, but it is rude and offensive to boys because they’re saying that guys can’t control themselves around a girl in shorts,” eighth grader Isabelle Bannon said.
This is not the first time a school’s dress code has come into question. In April, administrators at Orangefield High School in Orange County, Texas sent an 18-year-old girl home to change out of her cropped leggings and baseball shirt, prompting an Internet firestorm.
Girls are not the only ones complaining. Sixth graders Michael Wu and Arnav Kakarla said wearing the banned clothing “doesn’t affect other people’s attention” and that “the school is being sexist and cruel to simple rights that we all should have.”
To protest the dress code, girls have taken to congregating in the eighth grade concourse to jokingly inspect each other’s outfits. “You’ve got two violations right there,” said eighth grader Adrienne Wang to one of her friends, before letting her hurry to homeroom.
“Because of the dress code, people are actually starting to wear more inappropriate clothes just to bother the school, so I think it backfired,” eighth grader Caroline Palmer said.
According to CMS Principal Shauna Carter, no teachers have reported a dress code violation, as of April 27. But Tulp said teachers should address violations rather than send students to the office. “That’s part of why we send it out to all the staff—there’s three of us and there’s 1140 students,” Tulp said.
The group of girls who started the petition met with Carter on April 30 to discuss the dress code. “She didn’t realize the issues we brought up were issues in the school, and she is really upset that girls feel the way they do,” said Bannon, who described the meeting as a success. Carter said that although she understands the girls’ concerns, the dress code is not going to change anytime soon.
“There’s 32 days left in the school year,” Carter said. “I have to talk to Central Office, I have to talk to Grover; there’s other things that have to be in place.”