“All student clothing should be respectful of the school environment and not revealing to an extent that it may make others uncomfortable,” vaguely states the Healdsburg High (HHS) dress code located within the student handbook.
Until recently, many HHS students did not realize a dress code even existed. Teachers rarely enforced it, and students were free to dress themselves as they pleased. However this year HHS welcomed a new administration, consisting of Principal Amy Jones Kerr and Vice Principal Francisco Manriquez, which has brought the dress code to the attention of students and staff.
The HHS dress code contains nine rules intended to be enforced in order to create a safe and respectful environment for education. According to the administration, professionalism is key in the school system.
“My job and my responsibility is to help train my students to be young adults and to be successful in life. This means teaching how to dress professionally in a work environment,” said Jones-Kerr. Accordingly, these rules are aimed to integrate professionalism into HHS culture. The rules listed in the HHS student handbook are as follows:
1. All students must wear shoes and a shirt.
2. Outer clothing should cover undergarments including bra and boxer shorts.
3. All student clothing should be respectful of the school environment and not revealing to an extent that it may make others uncomfortable.
4. While we understand students may feel the need to express themselves through dress, the dress needs to be free from discriminatory attitudes and practices and acts of hate violence. Clothing should reflect safe, responsible and respectful attitudes.
5. No clothing or accessories that promote drugs/tobacco/alcohol or violence, is sexually explicit, uses profane or abusive language, debases a particular group, or demonstrates gang affiliation is permitted.
6. Pajamas are not to be worn at school.
6. Clothing or accessories that could cause injury such as bracelets or collars with spikes, etc., are not permitted.
7. Pajamas are not to be worn to school.
8. Blankets are not allowed.
At first glance it can easily be assumed that the guidelines are a bit outdated. This is purely based on the fact that the number six is repeated and the rule “Pajamas are not to be worn at school” is emphasized not once, but twice.
“I read some of the dress code rules and found they were poorly written, with bad grammar … one of them was even repeated on accident. Clearly, the dress code wasn't reviewed very effectively,” explained junior Harrison Threlfall in an interview amongst other HHS students. Others agreed with him, though many also argued that the dress code is flawed beyond its logical errors.
Throughout the interview, Threlfall continued to express his concern over the idea that these rules were written up to the judgement of the administration.
“There's no clear definition of what clothes would be distracting. So how are students expected to follow a rule that's up to the interpretation of the people enforcing?” he questioned in reference to rule number three, which states that clothing that makes others uncomfortable is not acceptable. Although the code does vaguely cover certain things such as the covering of undergarments, in many ways it lacks specificity. How much midriff is considered “too much”? How long does a skirt have to be? Can you wear a hat in class? What about a hoodie? The answers to all of these questions cannot be found in the current student dress code.
And herein lies a further problem regarding enforcement. “One day I wore basically the same shirt as another girl — I didn't get dress-coded yet she's gotten dress coded like four times,” said junior Emery Joy in the student interview. She exemplified the point that oftentimes it all comes down to the fact that certain people can wear certain things and not be noticed, but as someone with a different body, you could wear the same thing and be dress coded.
“When rules are written up to the interpretation of the enforcer that allows the room for situational discrimination,” Threlfall further summarized.
When it comes to the individual teen, many students hold different opinions as to what extent a dress code should be enforced in a public school setting in the first place. Some think it should be strict, others believe it should only be the bare minimum and some think a dress code is not necessary at all.
These different perspectives surfaced on Monday, August 30, when HHS students decided to take action. That morning many students showed up to school with a plan to wear shorts and crop tops. Some girls wrote words in Sharpie across their midriffs, for example things like “distraction.” However, action wasn’t limited to girls. On that Monday it wasn’t unusual to see a boy walking around in a cropped shirt, for many were passed throughout school, particularly by the junior class.
“I thought we should have kept doing it, frankly. I think it didn't put on a lot of pressure because all the administration knew what was happening and they were told not to do anything that day. And then the next day we didn't do anything. If anything, we should have done more,” said Nate Ross when asked about the effectiveness of the pushback.
While this attempt at defiancy may not have accomplished much, it brought to light student perspectives on the issue. Despite these differences in opinions, what most HHS students can agree on is that if a dress code at HHS is to be enforced, it first needs to be revised.
The new HHS administration is open to a revision. “I'm 100% in agreement with modifying and changing it because I agree, some of the stuff in there is just super outdated,” said Principal Jones-Kerr. In her quest to update the rules, she is looking to gather as much input as possible from students, teachers, and parents as to what is best to include in the new code. This input is what was lacking in the past.
“I think it will be important to get many stakeholders… maybe some parents, teachers, and definitely some students. It is important for us all to come together and agree in order to do what we think is right for us in our school,” she said.
Elise Thompson is a junior at Healdsburg High School. She’s co-editor of The Hounds Bark and an intern with The Healdsburg Tribune and SoCoNews.