BY GABE LICHT
Dress codes are sometimes hot-button issues, especially when the weather is favorable during the early days of the school year and again when it warms up after a long, cold winter.
Every now and again, dress code drama even makes headlines.
Fox 9 coverage of the latest case of this called it “a flap over straps,” which I thought was a clever way to describe it.
The situation started when a kindergatner wore a sundress with spaghetti straps, a pair of jeans, and a sweater to Hugo Elementary.
At some point, she must have removed the sweater, which is understandable considering it was one of the warmer days of the week and, perhaps, she wanted to show off the dress that was a gift from her grandmother.
She returned home wearing a t-shirt instead of the dress due to the school’s policy regarding exposed shoulders.
Her mother, Emily Stewart, told Fox 9 that she was upset about this.
“I think that when we’re talking about the body of a little girl and determining what’s appropriate and what’s not, you need to talk to the parent because that’s a violation of her privacy and her body without consulting anybody,” Stewart told Fox 9.
She also claimed that the principal “did not have an answer” for why the school had the rule.
Principal Jason Healy told Fox 9, “We are reviewing our protocols at Hugo Elementary. The student dress and appearance policy has been an item of discussion this year in White Bear Lake Area Schools.”
I have a few thoughts on this.
Perhaps, school administration should have called Stewart before making her daughter change, though the school’s policy does not state that administrators will do so in the case of a dress code violation. Maybe it should?
Yes, I looked up the Hugo Elementary Handbook, which is quite easily accessible on the school’s website.
It devotes almost an entire page to student appearance.
Item No. 4 states, “Shirts must have a neckline that shows no cleavage or higher and must have sleeves at least 3 fingers wide.”
My suspicion is that this is standard language recommended by the Minnesota School Board Association, likely adopted by most, if not all districts in the state, as the same description appears in the Delano Elementary School handbook.
If every, or almost every, district in the state has the same policy and it is not clear, one would think such problems would be more prevalent in headlines.
I have a couple theories why this is not the case.
First, most districts must make their policies very clear upfront.
I could be wrong, but I believe this is the case in Delano, for example.
School administrators explain and discuss the schools’ policies and handbook changes with the school board at length. I cover such conversations in detail. Even more importantly, administrators vow to include such information in orientation activities.
I don’t know if this is the case in Delano or not, but I do know that some schools have reminders about dress codes weekly in announcements during the fall and spring.
If schools explain their policies well on the front end, and on a regular basis, students and parents are more likely to know and understand such policies; and there is less chance for confusion, questions, and challenges.
Second, if there are dress code concerns or questions, most must be addressed adequately by administration.
This is key, and, according to the Fox 9 report, was not the case in this situation.
If Healy truly could not explain the purpose of the policy, that is a problem. It is imperative for administrators to know their policies and be able to explain them to students and parents.
I wonder if Healy really couldn’t explain the policy and the reason for it well, or if that was just Stewart’s side of the story.
His statement to Fox 9 makes me think maybe Stewart’s assessment of the situation wasn’t far off.
If the school and district are considering changes to the dress code, maybe he is questioning the policy himself and, therefore, could not provide a good answer.
I would hope, however, that an administrator would be able to at least articulate the reasoning behind the current policy and explain that changes are being considered.
Perhaps, he could vow to use this situation as an example why the policy needs to change and ask for specific suggestions. Maybe he did and Stewart still wasn’t satisfied? It’s impossible to know without having been in the room for the conversation.
One thing that I do know, when it comes to school policies, is that communication is key.
I believe most districts are doing this well, and I thought now would be a good time to give them some kudos.