A Mom Asks: Are School Dress Codes Going Too Far?

A Mom Asks: Are School Dress Codes Going Too Far?

Every change of season brings a new set of fashion choices for my children. My two oldest children are identical seventh grade twin girls. While shopping with them, I find myself saying things like, “Can you please pick out at least one shirt that does not require another shirt to be worn underneath it?” While shopping with my boys, ages ten and four, things are a little simpler: “Green or blue?” My girls spend a lot of time either the night before or the morning of school picking out what they want to wear—sometimes consulting me, or more likely, girlfriends via Facetime during the selection process. My boys wear what’s on top of the pile. But never once have any of their choices consisted of anything I would deem inappropriate to wear in public. This is where my children’s school district and I disagree.

A few weeks ago, the weather suddenly warmed up and overnight we went from snow pants to swimsuits. A few warm weather clothing days went by, then on a Wednesday morning I got a text first from one daughter, then from the other, stating that they had been pulled out of class and sent to the principal’s office because their shorts were too short for school—“too short” meaning they did not pass the “finger tip” rule. One daughter was made to change into her gym clothes (which ironically consisted of a pair of soccer shorts that also did not pass the finger tip rule) and the other was sent back to class with a warning.

Both of my daughters’ shorts were publicly called into question in front of their entire classes, pulled from instructional time, missed over half of a period of class, and told their clothing was inappropriate for school. While they were both a bit embarrassed at the public scrutiny of their carefully chosen outfits, mostly they were angry that their muscular soccer/track player legs, of which they are very proud, were seen as inappropriate to be revealed to their peers.

Enter the Mom. I was furious. I called their principal and did not keep my cool. During this phone call I kept asking the question, “Why?” He kept giving me the same response: “Because it is district policy.” So I would ask again, “But why?” I never got an answer.

In light of this conversation, I paid a visit to the school district website to refresh my memory on the dress code. It states:

The purpose of the dress code is to promote an environment that is safe, orderly, respectful and committed to delivering educational services without distraction or disruptions.

Under this statement are a few “rules of thumb” which is meant to help kids and staff understand what falls into the unacceptable category. It includes the finger tip rule and the twofinger width rule for tank top straps.

Okay, I get the point. Keeping kids safe is a top priority, and teaching kids to be respectful of their environment, peers, and educators is also extremely important. My question is where girls’ legs and shoulders fall into this policy—are legs and shoulders disrespectful or a distraction?

Let me point out that we aren’t too far removed from my middle school years where boys were the ones wearing short shorts and tank tops (doesn’t anyone remember Op shorts and Vaurnet tank tops?). My older brother’s shorts had a shorter inseam then than my daugthers’ shorts do now. I have no memory of any middle school or certainly elementary school boy being given the finger tip test, being made to change into his gym clothes (which would certainly be even shorter than his school shorts) or being told he was showing too much shoulder.

In conversations with our elementary school principal, I pointed out the gender inequality in the dress code by citing that in one day at the middle school, over 20 girls were called to the office for dress code violations while only one boy was in violation. The same trend exists in the elementary school. The principal stated that the dress code is not “meant” to single out one gender. I replied that while that may be true, that it wasn’t “meant” to, the fact remains that it does. And it does to an alarming degree.

If short shorts and sundresses are disrespectful, that is fine. But then I would argue that so are “sports clothes” like baggy basketball shorts, sweatpants, and a torn t-shirts, all of which boys wear all the time. So that leaves legs and shoulders being labeled as a “distraction” which, for my family and me, is a major problem.

Cover image courtesy of Shutterstock.