The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

April 16, 2014

Dress codes: Where should schools set limits?

(Continued)

At Haven Middle School, there has been a lot of confusion. Just a few weeks ago, the school's own website said leggings were banned, when apparently they were not, school officials now say. Then there was the matter of yoga pants, which are tight like leggings, but flared at the bottom. Did the fingertip rule also apply to those types of pants, especially when no one could tell the difference if they were tucked into boots, which is also popular style among teens?

The discussions at school meetings have sometimes bordered on silly. But few disagree that there are serious issues at hand here — among them, whether girls are being shamed and unnecessarily embarrassed at a time when they're already starting to feel more aware of their changing bodies.

Clearly frustrated with the debate, Haven Middle School teachers posted this statement on the school's website to explain the reasoning behind the leggings policy: "We believe, through years of experience and professionalism, that it is essential to our school's climate that we set a standard of expectation and decorum."

They denied that they acted because leggings distract boys, as has been alleged by some parents.

"The notion that girls' clothing affects the way boys learn is not, and never will be, our message," the statement said.

However, parents who've attended school meetings, and students who dislike the policy, seem most troubled by an inconsistency in enforcement. They claim that some girls are "dress-coded" more than others, perhaps because they are more physically developed. They say, for example, that they have heard comments like, "If you were smaller, you could wear this and it would be fine."

"I've also seen skinny, smaller girls walking around in leggings every week and never, ever getting caught for it," says Kate Green, a seventh-grader at Haven who concedes that she probably fits that category herself. She's had warnings, she said, but never more than that, when other girls have had to put their gym shorts over their outfits if they're in dress code violation.

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