Rye Middle School is having its own little fashion revolution, bordering on a girls’ liberation movement.
By Annette McLoughlin
Rye Middle School is having its own little fashion revolution, bordering on a girls’ liberation movement. A group of our middle schoolers is speaking up, challenging the District’s dress codes, and hoping to bring about a change in the length of shorts and skirts allowed.
Dress codes are not a new controversy. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, over half of all U.S. public schools enforce a strict dress code (and well over that when broken out into middle and high schools.) While a portion of every code enforces “a safe and healthy environment” (in science labs, and in home economics, technology, and physical education classes), they are also meant to maintain an environment where dress “does not interfere with the learning process.”
The specifics of dress codes vary among school districts. In addition to rules banning slogans or insignia which are obscene or libelous or which advocate any kind of prejudice, there’s generally a restriction on the amount of skin that can be shown and how form-fitting the clothing can be.) This, of course, is where the issue gets tricky. You can get a potent brew of self-image, freedom of expression, and gender politics, all stirred up into one dramatic early-morning showdown between teenagers and parents.
Rye began the process of re-evaluating its dress codes — which haven’t been officially revised since 1996 — earlier this year. The timing for Rye is not only a result of the national trend but also a response to a group of parents of middle school girls who challenged the four-inch rule. Last month, a petition was put forth requesting a change to that element of the dress code. The petition states, “We write to respectfully request a change in the RMS dress code regarding the length of girls’ shorts. Let us be clear – we are not suggesting that girls wear any inappropriate clothing to school. Specifically, we request that girls be allowed to wear mid-thigh shorts and athletic shorts (e.g., Nike running shorts). Not only is the current dress code unworkable because knee-length shorts are nearly impossible to find, but the explanation for the dress code is impermissibly biased.”
In response to the petition, Superintendent Dr. Frank Alvarez acted quickly to clarify and communicate the interpretation of the code. In an email sent out to parents, he cleared up some confusion regarding acceptable dress at the schools, stating specifically that athletic team attire and athletic shorts are, in fact, permissible apparel at all of the schools. That clarification was followed up with the news that the District’s Policy Committee is scheduled to immediately begin the process of a review of the Dress Code policy.
This process, however, is not a quick one. Because the Student Dress Code appears in both the Policies of the Board of Education (the legal framework for how the school district functions) as well as the Code of Conduct (a legally required document that outlines the behavioral requirements on school property and at school functions necessary to maintaining order in a school setting), a change in dress code requires several steps. Policy revisions are put on a Board of Education agenda three times: once for information, the second time for public discussion, and the final time for adoption.
The School Board hopes that the students who spoke up to change the dress code will attend the next Board of Ed meeting, October 27, where they will see for themselves how a change like this happens. Board member Karen Belanger, who chairs the Education Policy Committee, said, “Any chance we get to bring students to a Board meeting to show us what they are doing, is truly one of the highlights of the job.”
The current versions of the both the Student Dress Code policy and Current Code of Conduct are available on the district website, www.ryeschools.org.