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At their April 1 meeting, members of District 65’s Policy Committee – Suni Kartha, chair, Candance Chow and Claudia Garrison – took up issues surrounding the District’s dress code and the uneven enforcement of the policy at Haven Middle School.
The dress code policy is stated in the Board’s policy manual, found on the District’s website, district65.net. The District’s procedures for enforcement are found in the student handbook.
Over the next few weeks, Haven’s dress code will remain the same. The student handbook will be revised for next year and a committee of principals, teachers and parents will work on drafting procedures for enforcement that will be uniform District-wide.
The April 1 meeting was held in the Board room, in anticipation of a large crowd, but only a handful of people showed up, among them Haven parents Kevin and Juliet Bond and Elizabeth Smiley, Chute parent Kathy Smith and Board members Katie Bailey and Tracy Quattrocki.
While the District’s policy on dress code violations and Haven’s dress code enforcement were two of the topics for the Policy Committee, yoga pants and leggings took center stage.
Ms. Kartha opened the discussion by saying the aim of the dress code is to maintain a “respectful learning environment for all students.” Conversations over the past several weeks, she said, indicate “we need to do a better job. … We need to ensure that the dress code is clear.” She also said it was not the intent of the District that “the dress code would be communicated in a way to cause anxiety or shame.”
The District’s policy on dress code, found at paragraph 7:160 in the Board’s policy manual under “Student Appearance,” states, “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. Procedures for handling students who dress or groom inappropriately will be developed by the Superintendent and included in the Student Handbook.” (See below)
Board Policy and Procedures
The Board policy is “very general” and is a frame, Ms. Kartha said. “It is not intended to address specifics. That’s what the student handbook is for.”
Assistant Superintendent Sue Schultz pointed to the relationship between policy and the student handbook, which states that the procedures will be developed by the superintendent.
District 65 Chief Administrative Office Barb Hiller said the procedures, instead of being “developed by the superintendent … should be more community- and teacher-based.” She suggested changing the phrase “will be developed by the “superintendent” to “[be developed] by appropriate staff and reviewed on a regular basis.”
Ms. Schultz also said the procedures should be developed not just by the superintendent but in conjunction with a parent-teacher advisory committee.
“How are the parents chosen?” asked Ms. Chow.
“The principal selects someone to represent the school,” said Ms. Schultz.
Assistant Superintendent Ellen Folgelberg said some schools use the principal’s advisory committee, composed partly of parents, to select a representative.
Ms. Chow said it is important to include “parents who have voiced concerns.”
Haven’s Dress Code
Haven’s dress code requirea that boys wear their pants so as not to show their underwear, and that girls who wear leggings must also wear either a skirt or a “finger-tip-length” shirt. (See sidebar.)
“Who develops the Haven policy?” Ms. Quattrocki asked.
“[Haven’s policy] should be developed with teachers,” Ms. Schultz said, “It’s very clear that some schools are going in different directions.”
“We’re trying, for the future, not to have that happen,” said Ms. Kartha.
Uneven and inconsistent enforcement of that dress code was recently chum for a media frenzy – much of it based on misinformation or miscommunication, according to the District – about sexual politics, fashion and acceptable attire at school for preteen and early teenage girls.
“The question is what we’re going to do now with the status at Haven,” said Ms. Quattrocki. “There is some ambiguity in the language that I think we need to … address. The rules are on the Haven website, but … when you have leggings and yoga pants, it’s hard to tell the difference. Leggings are straight, and yoga pants are flared. We need to have that clarified. I don’t think even children – students – know the difference and what is legal. If [what the student is wearing is] transparent, you probably need to have something [over it], but if it’s just form-fitting … ”
Ms. Bailey expressed the same concern: “I think it will be great to have a policy – a dress code [developed] by parents and teachers. I just wonder about the remainder of the year.”
“Ms. Schultz said there is no mention of yoga pants in the Haven policy, “but they did say, if leggings are worn, they’re asking for a shirt to be worn over it.”
“Does that mean yoga pants are okay?” Ms. Quattrocki asked.
“That’s the problem,” said Ms. Kartha. She said that, because it is sometimes difficult to tell yoga pants from leggings, girls are asked not to tuck their yoga pants into their boots.
“Should we really be calling upon teachers to make the distinction between leggings and yoga pants?” asked Ms. Quattrocki. “That’s a little tough. … But beyond that, we need parents to know … because I wouldn’t know what to send my daughter to Haven [wearing].”
Ms. Bond said, “Regardless of the code, they are ‘coding [issuing dress-code violations to] girls who are wearing yoga pants.” She also said that at Haven there is “a consortium of parents that objects to leggings and one that supports leggings.”
Ms. Smiley added that girls at Haven who wear yoga pants tucked into their boots are at time issued violations, even after they have taken off their boots to show they are wearing yoga pants.
Ms. Smiley also said she “supports the dress code as it is stated.” She said that her daughter had been “dress-coded” five times wearing clothes “that my husband and I approved. … [Principal Kathy] Roberson said other factors [beside the stated dress code] are at play, such as walking upstairs and sitting down while wearing a ‘flowy’ skirt. The message has been delivered to Grace – she can’t wear what she wants to. … Harm has been done to my daughter and to others at Haven Middle School.”
Ms. Smiley also said she “took offense” at an assembly held last year for girls, who were lectured on appropriate dress, while no one spoke to boys. She made several suggestions about a dress code and enforcement: that the policy should be district-wide, that teachers should document when and why they issue a dress-code violation and send that information to parents, that parents should be notified in advance of all assemblies and that no student should be “dress-coded” after first period.
“I really do hope we can move forward on this issue,” Ms. Smiley said.
Mr. Bond said, “One of the issues is how the “restrictions [on attire] are communicated. …Our daughter has been distraught about the yoga pants.” He also said that some girls who are “dress-coded” are made to put on their gym shorts for the remainder of the day, which, brands them in a “Scarlet-letter” way.
For the Remainder of the Year …
Ms. Kartha said the committee would “not make a decision [on Haven] now.” She said the District 65 principals, together with Ms. Hiller and Ms. Schultz, will discuss a district-wide policy at their April 16 meeting.
“We’re going to finish up the year [with the same policy at Haven],” said Ms. Schultz.
“We’re hearing everything you’re saying,” Ms. Kartha said to the parents. “Yes, there have been inconsistencies [in enforcement]. Things have been communicated in a way they shouldn’t have been.
“We have to have a policy that is clear, judgment-free, consistently enforceable and doesn’t require [the question] ‘Is it leggings or is it yoga pants?’ … These are all things that need to be discussed. We need clear, specific language in the handbook about how things will be handled. … We don’t want kids to spend time worrying about ‘What am I going to wear to school? Am I going to get dress-coded?’ We are going to move forward to getting a more consistent policy that will eliminate some of that,” Ms. Kartha said.
“The less specific you are, the more you will require judgment,” said Ms. Garrison.
“I keep going back to Evanston Township High School,” which bans “revealing, transparent [or] sheer clothing,” said Ms. Kartha.
“But by [omitting references to] things like yoga pants and leggings,” said Ms. Quattrocki.
The district-wide dress code will be a topic at the principals’ meeting with Ms. Hiller and Ms. Schultz on April 16.
Parents will be invited to the meeting on the student handbook, scheduled for April 24. A draft of the recommendations developed at the April 24 meeting will be brought to the full Board at its April 28 meeting, a portion of which will be spent on student discipline.
District 65’s Dress Code
The Board policy on student dress in the Student and Parent Handbook, found under the heading “Appearance and Attire,” states as follows: “Student appearance, including dress and grooming, must not disrupt the educational process, interfere with maintaining a positive teaching/learning climate, or compromise reasonable standards for health, safety, and decency. Short shorts (less than fingertip length) and bare midriff shirts are not appropriate attire. Shirts should encircle the arm. Hats and outerwear are only to be worn outside of school. Clothing that advertises alcohol or makes reference to anything of questionable moral value is not permitted.”
The handbook also states that consequences of violating policies “ vary according to the age of the student, recognizing that K-5 students are considered to need more guidance while middle school students are expected to take more responsibility for personal behavior.”
The handbook is “distributed electronically at the start of the school year to all families. Hard copies are given to those families without internet access and there are also additional copies in the school offices. It is also posted on the website,” said Melissa Burda, communications director at District 65.
Haven’s Dress Code
Haven’s Dress Code is found in the “Haven School” section on the District’s website, district65.net. It states: “According to guidelines and policies established by Evanston District 65, school administrators may restrict the wearing of clothes or adornments that may be distracting to the educational process and environment. At Haven dress and appearance are important components of an overall positive learning environment and they must not present any health or safety problems for students. As a result, Haven has established the following guidelines:
“The length of a shirt or blouse must be sufficient length to cover the belt-line of pants or skirts. Shorts, dress, or skirts must extend closer to the knee than the hip. If leggings are worn the shirt, sweater, or skirt must be a minimum of fingertip length of a straight arm extend on the leg. Pants and shorts must be worn at the waistline. Wearing of a sleeveless shirt or top is acceptable as long as the material encircles the arm. If a baggy or loose-fitting sleeveless shirt or top is worn, a t-shirt with sleeves or other such garment must be worn underneath. Clothes advertising alcoholic beverages, tobacco products, drugs, gangs, gang symbols, or clothing that makes reference to anything that is of questionable moral value is not permitted. Hats, coats, and other outerwear may not be worn in the classroom, during passing periods, or during the school day. Head-coverings including hats, do-rags, scarves, and bandanas may not be worn in the building except for religious reasons.”