Alleged communication from one or more homeroom teachers at Haven Middle School went viral last week as students, parents and bloggers decried “Haven’s new dress code” and its “ban” on skinny jeans, leggings and yoga pants because these are “too distracting” for the boys.

Passionate and at times uninformed blasts saturated list serves and social media sites. The RoundTable and other media received emails, calls and letters to the editor, but a poll of the District 65 School Board revealed none who had been contacted.

It appears that few checked the primary source to see what the school’s and the District’s policies actually are. Instead, the buzz was that a sexist policy on clothing threatened to disempower teen and preteen girls – or to make them feel ashamed of their bodies.

The intent of the homeroom conversations, according to a letter sent afterward to Haven families by principal Kathy Roberson, was to communicate that Haven’s dress code mandates “If leggings are worn, a shirt, shorts, or skirt worn over them must be fingertip length.” Yoga pants are not covered in the dress code.
Ms. Roberson’s letter also stated “Haven has not revised its dress code nor has the school banned leggings, yoga pants, or ‘skinny’ jeans. … According to guidelines and policies established by Evanston/Skokie School District 65, student appearance, including dress and grooming, must not disrupt the educational process, interfere with maintaining a positive teaching/learning climate, or compromise standards for health, safety, and decency. At Haven, dress and appearance are important components of an overall positive and respectful learning environment.”

The dress code for District 65, adopted in 2007, is handled under the category “Student Appearance” and reads thus:

“A student’s appearance, including dress and grooming, must not disrupt the educational process, interfere with the maintenance of a positive teaching/learning climate, or compromise reasonable standards of health, safety, and decency. Procedures for handling students who dress or groom inappropriately will be developed by the Superintendent and included in the Student Handbook.”

What might have been said in those ten minutes of homeroom discussion is impossible to prove, but what was said and what the children, particularly some girls, heard and told their parents created a firestorm of anger and concern about the layers of meaning and nuances behind the policy – if only girls were forbidden to wear certain clothing and if the reason for the policy was that some clothing is “distracting” to boys.

Moreover, Haven’s dress code appears to have been unevenly and inconsistently enforced.

This controversy hits home in many, many ways. As residents of Evanston, we are concerned and chagrined that our community looks bad to some. As former adolescents (a while ago, admittedly), we are saddened by the pain and embarrassment caused by the inconsistent enforcement of the dress code and the glaring spotlight on their school. For adolescence is a time of pain and embarrassment, shame and excitement. The body that was once so comfortable as to be ignored develops in tricky and inconsistent ways.

Television, videos, music, advertisements, parental wishes and peers all press upon these children to do it this way, dress this way or say these things.

These children – all adolescents – need protection and leadership. They need to be able to grow in a safe and non-judgmental environment and they need to learn quietly how to take their places in the adult world.

We are glad that the District makes clear that the basis of the dress code is to help create a protected and respectful environment where children can grow and learn.

We applaud the steps Ms. Roberson and her staff have taken toward making the policy clear and its enforcement consistent, and we trust that the District will forge a consistent, compassionate and respectful dress code that will help our children thrive.