by Aila Boyd

After being petitioned to make changes to the dress code for middle school and high school students, grades 6-12, by two students back in September, the School Board was presented with recommended changes.

Following the September request for changes, Superintendent John Busher charged Keith Pennington, supervisor of instruction, with forming a committee to receive feedback and revise the current dress code. The committee was comprised of students, parents, teachers and administrators. The proposed changes were presented by Pennington, as well as Olivia Griffin and Spenser Eason. Griffin is a freshman at James River High School, while Eason is a junior at Lord Botetourt High School. Ultimately, the decision will be up to Busher.

Busher explained that he will review the proposed changes with administrators before reaching a final decision. If the changes are approved, the general consensus was that the policy hould not be implemented until the start of the 20192020 school year. The reasoning behind the delayed implementation was to allow students and parents enough time to prepare for changes. As proposed, the policy would prohibit the wearing of: Clothing and accessories that may be interpreted as vulgar, suggestive, derogatory, offensive, violent, contains references to alcohol, drugs, or tobacco, gang-related, or items which may cause a disruption within the school environment Dresses, skirts, shorts, and skorts shorter than mid-thigh Pants or skirts worn low on the hip so that undergarments or bare skin is exposed Clothing that reveals undergarments Tights, leggings, spandex, or pants that appear to fit as tights or leggings are prohibited unless accompanied by an additional item of clothing (shirt/sweater/shorts/skirt) that completely covers the student’s posterior Strapless tops or any top with shoulder straps less than 1 inch wide Mesh clothing, sheer clothing, or tops with necklines that are lower than the straight line from top of underarm across to opposite underarm, front and back Midriffs exposed at any time Holes in pants above the mid-thigh Hats, hoods, or nonreligious head coverings worn inside the school building Sunglasses or other permanently tinted glasses Bedroom slippers or pajama/lounging pants The policy also notes that “it will be the prerogative of the school administration to evaluate proper/ improper dress beyond that specified above.

School administrators will work with families in cases of special circumstances.” Eason explained that the added statement about administrators being able to work with families arose out of a concern that some families might not be able to afford to clothe their children in accordance with the proposed policy.

Certain exceptions to the proposed policy were discussed, specifically for sports and students at Botetourt Technical Education Center who are occasionally required to wear hats. “Hats are not allowed in the main building at BTEC, but they are allowed in the shop areas,” said Mike Ketron, supervisor of career and technical education. “You have to sometimes wear something over your head when you have a welding hat on.” As for the one-inch requirement for shoulder straps, Griffin explained that the idea came from the policy for elementary students. While formulating the proposed changes, the committee reviewed the dress codes for Augusta and Franklin Counties and Salem City. Board member Michael Beahm, of the Valley District, confirmed with Eason and Griffin that a satisfactory amount of student input was gathered as a result of the committee. In an effort to create a more uniform dress code policy across the board, Pennington explained that considerations for what’s included in the policy for the elementary schools was kept in mind. “We aligned the elementary policy with the same language so that there wouldn’t be such a shock going from fifth grade into sixth grade on the first week of school,” he said. Vice Chair Scott Swortzel, of the Blue Ridge District, inquired about how the proposed changes would be enforced. “The application of the dress code and ensuring compliance to the dress code is problematic for us and has been,” Swortzel said to Pennington. “How is enforcement of this going to happen? How’s it going to be better than what we have had?” “We will never have a perfect dress code policy,” Pennington said, noting his past experience on similar committees. Pennington went on to explain that the administrators who were on the
committee felt they would be able to enforce all of the policies set forth, which doesn’t always seem to be the case, according to Eason. “The index card is kind of dreaded amongst students,” Eason explained, referring to the way in which administrators currently judge whether or not students are abiding by the policy. “A lot of times the administrators feel less pressure to enforce the rule because everyone hates it so much.” One of the driving factors behind the decision to do away with the fiveinch rule and to replace it with a mid-thigh policy was to have equity across the board in terms of enforcement, something that the current policy doesn’t have.

“We feel it’s unfair on taller people such as myself who struggle finding shorts that are that long,” Griffin said of the current rule that prohibits dresses, skirts, shorts, and skorts from being shorter than five inches in length, which is the equivalent of the width of an index card. Chair Michelle Crook explained that she’s 5’9” and views the proposed change as a step in the right direction. In order to demonstrate the discrepancies that the current five-inch rule causes, Eason explained, everyone at one of the committee meetings measured how much five inches would be on their body.

The results were strikingly all over the place, he said. “It’s definitely a lot more universal,” Eason added of the proposed mid-thigh policy. Crook wasn’t the only member of the board who voiced approval of the proposed change. “I would have thought that index card thing was, to be blunt, kind of dumb,” Beahm added. Concern was also expressed over the time and place that enforcement would take place. “They wanted consistent enforcement and they did not want the children pulled out of class,” Swortzel said about his conversations with parents and teachers concerning the enforcement of the dress code. “We can’t do that.” At the end of the presentation, Busher asked Eason and Griffin what they took away from the experience.

“Definitely learning how to compromise,” Griffin said. “There were a lot of different things that I wanted and didn’t get all of those.” “This was a great experience to be able to have everyone there and just talking about it,” Eason said about his time on the committee. “It offered so many different perspectives.” “I appreciate your work on this,” Crook said to Eason and Griffin.