Middle schoolers: Dress code prohibits fashion

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 6, 2003

At a crowded lunch room table with a gaggle of friends Morgan Meany, 13, describes the problem as she sees it, &uot;If I raise my hand in class my back will show and I’ll be in trouble.&uot;

She is part of a group of kids at the Southwest Middle School who oppose the new dress code as conflicting with style, and their independence. It bans clothing that reveals the midriff or back when standing or sitting, it also bans clothing that reveals underwear. So thin straps on tanktops are not allowed because they display bra strap. Shirts that display alcohol, tobacco, and drugs are also banned and gang-related attire.

Heather Griebrok, 13, in an early lunch period said of some of the restrictions &uot;We’re getting to the age where we should be able to decide what’s appropriate.&uot; She thought the restriction were too strict. She said &uot;All girls are going to wear bras eventually. If the straps show what’s the big deal?&uot;

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Meany’s friend Molly Kate Sutton, 13, explained another problem. Skirts must reach past their fingertips when held at their sides. Pressing her hands against friend Ashley’s hand, she shows that Ashley has really long fingers. &uot;You go to Abercrombie and find me a skirt that long.&uot;

But somebody has to sell clothing that long, can’t you just buy longer skirts?

&uot;Not if you want to be in style.&uot; Meany said.

It’s a familiar battle. Kids wearing what they say is in style, and schools saying the clothes are inappropriate. And as girls wear skimpier clothing at younger ages, it shocks some and is approved by some peers.

&uot;I don’t care if society accepts. We don’t accept it here. Kids need to learn that there are rules everywhere you go,&uot; Southwest principal Marsha Langeseth said.

Langseth, who is new to the school, made the dress code more detailed and decided to enforce it throughout the year. &uot;Its crucial to reenforce it. If you don’t, it gets worse,&uot; she said.

She added that some clothing is too sexually suggestive and distracting for a learning environment, but her rules also about teaching kids modesty.

Langseth said teachers will use common sense and kids won’t be in violation when they raise their hands. In fact, the basic penalty now is wearing their gym shirt around school, or any of the hand-me-down shirts formerly owned by her sons. She said wearing the shirt is generally punishment enough in most cases. &uot;It just says ‘I made a bad choice today, and tomorrow I’ll make a better choice.’ Hopefully,&uot; she said with a laugh.

Langseth hasn’t heard too many protests from students. And most students haven’t been affected, meaning that most clothing hasn’t been a problem.

She’s heard from parents thanking her for making their jobs easier.

She said the high school introduced a similar dress code this year, which means kids can’t use the ‘they wear the clothes at the high school’ complaint.

Albert Lea High School’s principal Al Root said that the administration saw a need for a different dress code last spring.

&uot;With what some of the companies are selling in some of the stores we wanted something more appropriate in the school,&uot; he said.

Molly Kate Sutton’s father David Sutton is pleased to see the dress code enforced. He said his daughter and her friends are at an age where their appearance is extremely important.

&uot;Kids at this age want to look cool and look ‘hot’ to get attention,&uot; he said. But he said that it’s a distraction that should not be schools.

His daughter knows the dress code better than he does and he said he will back the school if she is in violation, he said.

&uot;She’ll test the limit. So will all her friends they all want to get away with what they can get a way with.&uot;

(Contact Tim Sturrock at tim.sturrock@albertleatribune.com or 379-3438.)