COOS COUNTY – School dress codes have been under scrutiny across the nation, particularly for singling out girls for outdated standards.
The World took a look at local school dress codes, two being nearly identical between the North Bend and Coquille school districts.
“There's never been a finger-length measurement officially,” said North Bend High School Vice Principal Jake Smith. “It's not been done because some people may have longer or shorter arms.”
Instead, the dress code calls for students to simply have a well-groomed appearance and to not wear hats during school hours. The guidelines go on to prohibit short shorts/running shorts, cut-offs and tank tops, open-backed clothing and half shirts, and all clothing should never display offensive language, obscenities, vulgarities, or suggestions of immoral behavior.
However, there is also a line that reads, “The principal shall have the prerogative of prohibiting specific items of clothing which, in his or her judgment, distract from the educational process.”
“We expect kids to dress appropriately,” said Principal Bill Lucero. “If kids wear a skirt that's too short, we won't take out a ruler and measure down their leg. We only do something if it seems inappropriate. It's no big deal because it comes down to the distraction, and that is always going to be subjective.”
Smith added that “if boys were wearing a really skimpy tank top or beer logo, it would be the same.”
The Coquille School District has an identical line in their dress code, allowing the principal to decide if clothing is inappropriate.
However, whenever a dress code situation makes national headlines, Superintendent Tim Sweeney shares the articles with his building principals.
“I ask them if this came up at your school, what would you do?” he said. “The last thing we want to do is say a girl has too short of skirt. We don't want to be that.”
In Coquille, a principal's discretion to decide if clothing is out of line with the dress code usually falls under displays of tobacco, alcohol, or suggestive language. In fact, Sweeney remembers only one time where the dress code was used to make a student change his shirt, and that was five years ago.
“The kid wore a Nike shirt with a football player on it saying, 'Show me your TDs,' or your touchdowns, but it sounds like something else,” Sweeney said. “When the kid was told not to wear it, he was fine with that. Our principals understand what is acceptable for their buildings, and if something comes up they call the parents. Generally it's been amicable and hasn't been an issue.”
Sweeney is glad that students attending public school have opportunities to express themselves and show off nice clothing at events, but it's up to the principals to make sure things run smoothly and that includes the dress code.
“I've never had a principal call saying a girl has a too short of skirt on or a boy is showing too much chest hair or anything like that,” he said. “That goes back to the parents having a big part of helping us through this, making sure what their children wear when they leave the house is school appropriate.”
The glaring difference between these dress codes showed up at the Coos Bay School District, where there was no discretion left up to building principals.
Superintendent Bryan Trendell read out of the parent handbook, stating that neat and clean appearances are highly desirable, but that the district realizes styles of dress and grooming changes and should not be regulated by school edict.
Instead, the dress code tells students that they are expected to use good judgment and taste that a “majority of reasonable people consider appropriate for the occasion,” citing that they have the right to expect a productive school environment that is both healthy and safe.
The dress code asks that students help the district meet those expectations by coming to school dressed and groomed so as not to create a health and safety hazard, and should abide by health and safety rules and guidelines set by the state. It calls for no revealing clothing or those with offensive graphics or language, just as the Coquille and North Bend dress codes did.
“Our school board recognizes that with our policy fashion styles change over the course of time,” Trendell said. “Our dress code is detailed, but pretty simple.”
The Coos Bay School District has parents sign and initial the handbook at the beginning of the year. During the fall and again in the spring, when warm weather returns, the district puts out notifications and messages on its website and in newsletters reminding students and parents that the dress code should be followed.
“The most important thing is our students have a right to a safe place to receive education,” Trendell said.