Students, parents vocal over dress code at Boyle Middle

Published 8:20 am Saturday, January 13, 2018

Are leggings enough to be considered pants? Some girls and their parents at the Boyle County Middle School believe they should be, as long as their shirts cover their backsides.

BCMS posted the policy on its Facebook page to remind parents as students returned from winter break. School dress code states the shirts, noted as tunics, must reach the bottom of the girls’ fingertips, when arms are outstretched. 

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The code has changed little since 2011, said Principal Steve Karsner. At that time, they decided to take out “no leggings” policy and change it to allow leggings, worn under dresses, skirts or shorts that met the “fingertip test.” The length is determined by the board policy, Karsner said.

“We took out the ‘no’ leggings part (in 2011) because I hate to keep saying ‘No, no, no.’ Policies should evolve,” he said, and because more students wanted to wear leggings. “As you look at your policy and look around at what we’ve got kids wearing, let’s figure out what that is and what we allow.”

Over 20 comments from parents highlight their opinions, confusion and, in some cases, anger regarding the leggings portion of the dress code. Many feel the issue with arm length is unfair, including parents like David Stevens, whose daughter Alexis, a seventh-grader, is one of those who enjoys wearing leggings.

“She has a pair of gym shorts she can’t wear because she has such long arms,” Stevens said, because there’s a “v” shape on the side, which doesn’t come down long enough.

Karsner said they’ve also reviewed policies of other schools, such as Washington County Middle School, which says “no form-fitting pants of any kind.” That, he said, would include skinny jeans, something brought up by Facebook commenters on the district’s post.

“We haven’t had a lot of students wear those … We haven’t looked at skinny jeans, some do. We might in the future,” he said.

Karsner said he understands the lengths can be difficult for some students, but it’s the policy the board set forth for shorts, skirts and dresses, and it made sense to maintain that length for shirts or tunics as well.

“When we’ve had violations, we try to get the problem corrected. We’ve not given any discipline consequences,” he said. “We’re not fussing. In my opinion, if there’s a problem, we fix and move on.”

Students who violate the code are required to come to the office so administration can keep up with them, he said, and if it continues to be the same students, it’s possible some discipline action could be taken. For now, however, Karsner said they either call the parents to bring clothes or the give the students appropriate clothing to wear.

“Some schools make a thing out of it, make the kid wear an orange shirt that says, ‘I violated dress code,’ or something like that. We’re not trying to do that,” he said.

Karsner and the school administration met with students on the first day of school, and will continue to every nine weeks to go over expectations. This includes reviewing cafeteria rules, which side of the hallway to walk on and hitting some of the dress code points, like paying attention to the length of shorts in the warmer months.

Jan. 5 was the first day back, after the original start date was cancelled due to bad weather. During the meeting with students that day, Karsner said, they emphasized the rules regarding leggings.

“I told the kids on Friday, ‘You may have worn tights to school two days in November and no one said a thing to you. That may have happened,’” Karsner said. He said the school staff talked about how enforcement had gotten “slack.” 

“We’re trying to be more consistent with all of our rules and procedures,” Karsner said. “My thought was, kids would go home Friday, bring up the dress code and parents could go online and look at it.”

That’s one of the problems Alexis Stevens said she has with the code — she hasn’t changed what she wears, but things have changed at the school.

“I’m not trying to show my body off or anything. They’ve never been this strict. I just don’t get it,” said Alexis. She was one of the people who was “dress coded” on Tuesday.

The policy did change slightly before Christmas, with the addition of tunics, and what kind of cold shoulder shirts could be worn (cutouts exposing the shoulder). It was approved by the site-based decision-making council in November after a first reading in October, and then read a third time in December for members who were absent at the prior meeting.

“It wasn’t meant to be malicious,” Karsner said. “We certainly didn’t mean to offend any parents or students.” But some parents complained that they would have appreciated being aware of the code before Christmas. Karsner said he owns they didn’t remind parents of the dress code before Christmas, and added it would be a good idea in the future to do that. 

Karsner said they do go over the code with incoming sixth grade parents and post it online. Otherwise, parents do not receive a copy each year.

David Stevens said that was frustrating for his family because they just purchased Alexis more leggings and shirts for Christmas, and now she struggles to find things the school deems within dress code. He said he also feels that teachers wear leggings with dresses, and questions if they’re being checked so closely.

“If it goes for students it should go for teachers, too,” he said.

Karsner said there is a dress code in place for teachers as well.

This is the first time Karsner remembers there being major complaints about the code.

“I’ve never had this happen to me before. I’ve been principal for 10 years now,” Karsner said. “All of our policies are reviewed every year. It hasn’t largely changed in 10 years or more.”

Other parents think it might be time to change it more. Parent Valarie Wofford is one of those. Her son, Brayden, is an eighth-grader.

Jeans with tears in them can also be called into question — any with holes above the mid-thigh must have patches under the holes. When she saw the post regarding the dress code, Wofford said she asked her son, because he had a pair with tears in them. She said none of his were in violation, but he told her about friends who had been called to the office. 

“One was allowed to go back to class, but she was in the office for an hour. It was ridiculous,” Wofford said. Her problem with the clothing violations is students are being pulled out of class.

“If they’re so concerned with what they’re wearing, why don’t they take a stand on all of it and revise the whole policy,” Wofford said. “Make it a standard to wear uniforms. It would simplify everything across the board, the county. It would simplify things for parents … It would be a lot easier to find.” Even if students didn’t like the uniforms, they would know what to wear without fear that they’re in violation, she said. 

She pointed to Toliver Elementary School, in the Danville Independent Schools system, which limits students to six colors of polos and pants, shorts or skirts. Shorts or skirts must be fingertip length or longer. Toliver T-shirts are allowed. The policy will not be in effect next year, leaving it for the site-based decision-making council to decide. There aren’t limitations regarding shoes or socks.

“It’s not far-fetched, not some off-the-wall, unheard of thing,” Wofford said.

Alexis Stevens and her father agree maybe uniforms should be considered. David Stevens said either the rule with the leggings needs to change, or they need to go to requiring a uniform — which he thinks would be hard to convince others of. 

Wofford said she thinks it’s time for the school to talk about it more.

“If they’re going to make such an uproar, I think it’s something that needs to be addressed. Maybe we need to talk about it some more. Maybe it’s time to revise the policy,” she said. “We need more parents to take a stand for our kids. It’s not something to be quiet about.”

She said the parents are the ones buying the clothes, so they should be spoken to before pulling a student out of class — something she feels singles them out. 

“Kids nowadays hold so much stuff in with them. It’s an issue the parent needs to deal with more so than the child,” she said.

David Stevens said he wants his daughter to stand up for herself.

“I’m trying to show my kids how to properly peacefully protest … They need to stand up for what they feel is right, but remain calm about it,” he said. 

Alexis Stevens said she just feels there should be less focusing on wardrobe and more on learning.

Despite the responses on social media, Karsner said there haven’t been that many students, out of the 650 that attend the school, in violation. About a dozen on Tuesday and Wednesday and only five on Thursday. The district did not have school Monday or Friday.