School’s back and students have to watch what they wear
By Bryanna Allen
STAFF WRITER | August 27,2014
As the school year starts up, educators have seen an increasing amount of students pushing the limits of dress codes.
Shifting from breezy summer attire to conformance with a school dress code can be a struggle for students who rely more and more on media for a sense of style and fashion.
However, some school officials are keeping an open mind when it comes to inevitable changes in fashion.
Rutland High School principal Bill Olsen not only keeps everything in perspective, but said he actually finds the changes interesting from a historical viewpoint.
“As a former history teacher, I always find it interesting how dress, dance or other aspects of human behavior are perceived in a different manner by those in the younger and older generations,” Olsen said. “When I look at yearbooks of the late 1960s and early ’70s, there are a lot of similarities in fashion today.”
Olsen said RHS surveyed the dress codes of other schools throughout the state while keeping in mind the realities of the times.
The current RHS dress code is more of a guideline and less of an actual code. Many schools once had very specific rules when it came to appropriate clothing — such as a skirt could not be shorter than a student’s fingertips when her arms were at her sides.
That rule, however, can cause problems instead of solve them.
RHS associate principal Pam Reed said that rule can lead to issues with female students because no two are physically alike.
“A dress or skirt that fits one girl well enough for school standards may not fit another girl the same way,” Reed said.
“It’s a very black and white way of enforcing rules and it can be impossible to keep up,” she said.
Reed said short of following students to stop and measure their outfits, there is little to be done and it ends up being a waste of time.
Instead, RHS tries to follow the First Amendment right that allows students freedom of expression while maintaining appropriate wear for the classroom.
“In simple terms, we want the kids to dress for school, their ‘job,’ but we also know they are also kids, so a Patriots T-shirt is going to be OK, too,” Olsen said.
The principal said students are not allowed to wear clothing that is vulgar, obscene or anything that encourages the use of drugs or alcohol.
“Clothing cannot create a distraction that inhibits other students’ learning,” he said.
Ken Page worked in central Vermont schools for 36 years, first as a teacher and then as a principal. Page is now executive director of the Vermont Principals Association and said he has seen drastic changes over the years not only in the way students dress, but in the way teachers dress as well.
“There was a young female teacher, right from college, who unknowingly broke our own dress code,” Page said. “The kids loved her because she was young and hip and cool, but we had to gently remind her that she was a professional setting an example.”
Page said that when he first started teaching, baseball hats were out of the question. Now, he said, that rule is more relaxed in Vermont schools.
“We adapt as the times change and kids change,” he said. “But the main goal is to still keep up a successful learning environment.”
Page recalled a former exchange student at the Crossett Brook middle school in Duxbury years ago who dressed in a way that fit her culture but was considered inappropriate in the American culture as a student.
“You will come across obstacles, especially with clashing cultural norms, but you learn to respectfully work through them,” Page said.
School dances, he said, are another grey area with dress codes. Students take them as a way to be more expressive and push limits — something Page said young adults are expected to do.
Fair Haven Union High School student Olivia Laramie started noticing dress code enforcement when she was in fifth grade. Laramie said she also noticed how girls are called out on their outfits much more frequently than boys.
“There is a rule at my school that boys cannot wear cutoff T-shirts, but it is never enforced,” Laramie said.
She said she wastes time in the morning debating what to wear because she is constantly thinking about getting in trouble.
“The dress code for girls is always enforced,” she said. “I’ve never gotten in trouble because I dress very modestly.”
Laramie said the rules do the opposite of what they intend; they distract students because they become so concerned with guidelines.
“If I’m worrying about my clothing choices, I may be less focused on my work,” Laramie said.
She also said it suddenly makes girls very aware and uncomfortable with their bodies. “We are taught to be ashamed of them,” she said.
Mount St. Joseph Academy in Rutland, a private Catholic school, switched from a strict dress code to a uniform code two years ago in hopes of avoiding conflict with the way students dress.
“It was becoming a problem and a waste of time trying to regulate clothing,” said MSJ principal Sarah Fortier. “Students can still express themselves through other outlets.”
MSJ students now wear uniforms consisting of black or khaki pants or shorts, green plaid skirts for girls and polo or button-down shirts. Print dresses and skirts, along with sweatshirts and athletic wear, are not allowed during school hours.
MSJ senior Megan Eaton said she liked the old dress code better than the uniforms, but doesn’t mind the new rules.
“I can still express myself through jewelry and shoes,” Eaton said. “And I save time never having to think about what I’m wearing.”