Students and administrators discuss the consistency and place of dress code policies.
By Noah Mizer, ’21 and Josie Stewart, ’21
As junior Jess Wagner walked out the door for school, her mother complimented her outfit: a black tank top with a long sleeved flannel and high-waisted shorts. In school, Wagner was stopped in the middle of the hallway and was told, “That’s a cute shirt for the weekend, but it’s not appropriate for school. You need to button up your flannel.”
“[The administrator] waited while I was in the middle of the hall for me to button up my flannel and would not let me leave until I did,” Wagner said. “Then [the administrator] said, ‘I expect to see [it buttoned up] all day.’”
Wagner is one of many female students who have been warned about proper dress during the current school year. While the school does not explicitly advertise the policy, its recent enforcement has led to experimentations, subtle protests and confusion from many students.
The UAHS Students’ Rights and Responsibilities Handbook contains two paragraphs dedicated to proper dress under the student discipline code. One paragraph states that “clothing may not include words or visuals that are lewd, obscene, disruptive, abusive, or discriminatory, or that advertise drugs, alcohol or tobacco” and explains that “dress or grooming that is disruptive of the classroom or school atmosphere is not allowed.”
The other paragraph continues the idea of disruptive clothing and states that “any actions or manner of dress that materially and substantially disrupts or interferes with school activities or the educational process, or which threaten to do so are unacceptable” and lists examples such as “delay or prevention of lessons, assemblies, field trips, athletic and performing arts events.”
The Board of Education votes on and administrators implement the high school’s dress code policies. An in-depth version of acceptable clothing can be found within policy 5722, a school policy
on freedom of expression and assembly. The policy states that “dress resulting in exhibitionism shall be prohibited” and lists the following as unacceptable: “tube tops, bare midriffs, bare or uncovered backs, and see-through mesh shirts unless worn with an acceptable shirt/blouse, or pants worn in a manner that exposes the buttocks.”
Although this policy can be found online, it is not found in the handbook. A voluntary Arlingtonian survey found that over 60 percent of students are not familiar with either code or policy. Principal Andrew Theado said that issues with the policy do not occur often and that there are more important topics that he wants to emphasize to students, which is why the school does not advertise the policy.
“[On] the first day with freshmen, we try to build relationships with students, but we talk about some serious things like bullying or harassment or drug and alcohol use. Those for me are the priority; those are the things that I think they really need to know and that I take seriously,” Theado said. “I’m not going to spend that valuable time digging into the dress code when those conversations can be had individually.”
Some students believe the policy should be made known to students before being enforced.
“It’s not fair,” Wagner said. “If you don’t know what [the dress code] is, you don’t know [what] guidelines to go by.”
CUT OR CODE?
Unlike both middle schools, the high school policy lacks set measurements and exact articles of clothing that are subject to dress code. Also unlike other policies in the handbook, there are no predetermined consequences for wearing clothing deemed inappropriate. Students will not receive disciplinary action for their choice of dress. They are simply told by a teacher or administrator to either
cover up, wear their clothing inside out, change, or be given a new shirt to replace the one deemed inappropriate.
Since the start of this school year, many female students have had these conversations with administrators, and many wonder why the code is being enforced seemingly just now.
“Since my brother went to [UAHS] and graduated in 2014, the only time he ever heard of someone being dress coded was when there was graphic violence or a gun on a T-shirt,” Wagner said. The students are not alone. Theado addressed the recent number of females that have been dress coded compared to the overwhelming majority of male students in the past.
“In my time as principal here, it’s hands down boys [being dress coded more often]. Typically, they are the ones wearing the alcohol-related shirts,” Theado said. “This school year, I think we’ve had more
conversations with females.”
Many students agree that the school has a right to start enforcing a dress code but believe the guidelines should be clearer.
“[The wording of the dress code isn’t fair], because they’re judging in their own opinion whether something is disruptive or not,” Wagner said.
Regardless, Theado believes freedom of expression is important in schools.
“We have no measurements. As students, you can express yourself through many different things, and one of those is the way you dress,” Theado said.
AN INCONSISTENT CODE
Junior Michael Lee wore a crop top to school expecting to be asked to change after junior Avery Hardgrove had been dress coded the previous day for wearing a tube top. “I was in the cafeteria, and [an administrator] yelled across the cafeteria, ‘come over here,’ and told me to put the sweatshirt on,” Hardgrove said. Meanwhile, Lee received no comments on his outfit from any teachers or administrators leading to more students noticing inconsistencies with the policy.
Senior Carolyn Stehle said, “I’ve seen numerous other people wearing the exact same thing and they dress code me, but other people are fine and get off the hook for it. I don’t really get that part.” Theado agrees there are inconsistencies with the dress code.
“I think [that the dress code is not uniformly enforced]. It’s not black and white, so that makes it hard. Having the measurements would make it easier in terms of making it black and white, but I’m not a proponent of that. We’re human. I can’t see everything every day,” Theado said.
Students are also left wondering when an article of clothing can be considered “disruptive,” as this is not clearly outlined in the school’s policies. “I don’t think it’s fair to tell someone their clothes are distracting, because everyone’s definition of distracting could be something different,” Lee said.
Teachers aren’t placed under direct orders to enforce the dress code, and they may be hesitant to engage with the student regardless due to the difficulty of the subject.
“Addressing a dress code is a personal thing. It’s a hard conversation on both ends,” said Theado.
The most common offense against the dress code is clothing that advertises drugs or alcohol.
“The issues that we deal with mostly—maybe a handful a year—are advertising alcohol or drugs on a shirt or hat,” Theado said.
Advertising drugs or alcohol is as simple as wearing a shirt or other article of clothing that has a logo for any alcoholic beverage or that features any drug. Although students occasionally wear these to school, 52 percent of students feel it should be subject to dress code, according to an Arlingtonian survey.
“We’re only teenagers. Drugs and alcohol are illegal. I don’t think we should be allowed to promote that kind of stuff at school,” Lee said.
Another popular clothing option is a “Virginity Rocks” T-shirt or sweatshirt, made popular by Youtuber Danny Duncan.
“How am I getting in trouble for what I’m wearing but guys wearing ‘Virginity Rocks’ aren’t?” Wagner said. “I don’t think that adults understand the culture of kids today, so I don’t think they have a
right to judge.”
However, Theado doesn’t feel these shirts have caused any type of issue.
“[This applies to] when we talk about discretion. I don’t have any experience with this shirt causing
a disruption in the past. I have not heard anything about a disruption being caused,” Theado said.
Considering that students retain their rights of freedom of expression, students are still able to wear shirts such as these that express opinion, political views or identities. Therefore, students could wear
clothing that oppose the Virginity Rocks shirts and still not violate the dress code.
Theado and some students even have cited Supreme Court cases that have set a precedent for such situations, such as Tinker v. Des Moines, in which students were permitted to wear anti-Vietnam armbands to school.
Junior Garrett Alderman said he believes Virginity Rocks gear should not be subject to the dress code, especially considering the specifications in the handbook. Alderman believes that many of the instances in which a student might be dress coded for apparel that is “disruptive” are manufactured by teachers who exaggerate situations. For Alderman, Virginity Rocks does not violate the dress code explicitly, but the attitude among UAHS teachers could still be against the shirts.
“I really don’t think that much of it is going to be a distraction unless [a] teacher makes something out of it,” Alderman said.
Some students, such as senior Madeline Melragon, believe the infrequency of dress code incidents means that the policies are being implemented justly.
“Other than a few minor slip-ups that I’ve heard of, it’s enforced fairly because it’s not enforced,” Melragon said.
Whether or not students feel the dress code has caused issues, Theado stated that the dress code is not his first priority as an administrator.
“There are [issues] that are blatant, and we’ll address it,” Theado said. “That’s not the thing that keeps me up at night.”
Although Theado and other administrators do not tend to dress code often or make it their top concern, female students on the receiving end have formulated many opinions and worries.
“[Some faculty members] stare at girls more than guys stare at girls, and it makes me uncomfortable that [they’re] just analyzing my body,” Wagner said. “[When a] teacher says, ‘That’s not OK,’ basically what they’re saying is, ‘That’s too slutty.’ They’re just saying it in a kind manner because they can’t go out and say you look like a slut.”