Updated dress code causes students to think twice about their school attire

Shrija Shandilya | The Chronicle

This year, an exposed belly button may come with a price.

For the first time since 2017, Mason High School (MHS) has an enforced dress code. The 2022-23 policy requires students to wear “a shirt with a hem that meets the top of the waistband while standing.” Students were notified over email and during the first week of the school year. 

MHS Principal Bobby Dodd said that there has always been a dress code, but in past years, it has been less enforced. This lack of enforcement caused uncertainty among students and staff on what is appropriate to wear, so Dodd and other MHS administrators discussed the possibility of change to help foster a strong educational environment.  Dodd said that this change in policy is intended to ensure that students are living up to Mason’s three big rocks (culture, inclusive excellence and personalized learning) when it comes to apparel.

“We always have to remember [that] we’re an instructional institution,” Dodd said. “We try to create a safe learning environment for all students. [The dress code] gives them an opportunity to really focus on that.”

Dodd said that he feels that the dress code has already created a better learning environment and hopes that students will think back on this dress code when in a professional work environment.

“Sometimes, we have students say, I get to wear whatever I want to wear at work,” Dodd said. “To a certain point they may, but then there are also places where you have to follow protocols and procedures when it comes to what you wear.”

The dress code was developed by student and staff discussions with MHS Assistant Principal Laura Spitzmueller. She said that she volunteered to lead this discussion, in which students looked at dress codes from local school districts and Mason Middle School to determine ideas for a reasonable dress code for Mason High School, as well as to stay consistent with the middle school.

“[We] talked through ideas about the different dress codes and the students had an opportunity to share.” Spitzmueller said. “There were pieces from the different dress codes that [we] liked [and] that we thought we should look at further.”

Spitzmueller said that she has been at MHS for seven years and feels that there has been a bigger emphasis placed on hearing the student voice, especially in making decisions about the school.

“There are a lot more student-led groups,” Spitzmueller said. “[There are] a lot more opportunities for students to give feedback on different things – like when we changed our schedule, we had student focus groups.”

This creation of opportunities for students to voice their opinions aids administrators in creating a better learning environment. Spitzmueller said that this is something that they are always looking to improve.  

“There are a lot of other things that we’re doing that are coming from students to improve the environment and make students feel comfortable and like this is a safe place to learn,” Spitzmueller said.

While pursuing this idea of making students comfortable and ensuring a safe learning environment, Spitzmueller said that she doesn’t believe that administration needs to create extremely strict rules. After analyzing different dress codes around the area, she said that she found that Mason’s new dress code is still far less strict. However, the new policy is a change and it can be hard to adjust to. She said that she hopes that students recognize that their worth should not be tied to apparel. 

“I do think just looking at that connection between your image, what’s inside and your feelings about yourself inside is a good conversation to have and a good reflection for kids,” Spitzmueller said.

Junior Ethiopia Jegol was dress coded on the first day of the 2022-23 school year. The current consequence of being dress coded is a referral to a digital form and a discussion. Jegol said that she was not aware of the change in the policy prior to being referred, and was initially confused as she had never had any past disciplinary action.

“It was just really shocking,” Jegol said. “[A teacher] started asking me my name and everything and I was like, why did you just come up to me right now?”

Jegol said that she valued the creative freedom the past dress code gave her and feels that the new one hinders her expression. She said that she feels that limiting that outlet is harmful and a change that mainly targets women’s fashion.

“My outfits are me expressing myself, so the fact that they’re trying to tell me what I can and what I can’t wear is good for no one and it mainly impacts people who wear women’s fashion.”

Additionally, Jegol said that she feels that this change does not positively impact MHS’s learning environment. She said the she believes that it has caused more disruption, especially when students are sent to the office over slivers of midriff showing. Jegol said that she thought her shirt met the waistband of her pants and her midriff was barely exposed, which added to her confusion about being dress coded.

“Nothing about my stomach should be impacting how I do in school,” Jegol said. 

Junior Mia Yoshimura said that since the majority of her tops are cropped, she was unsure what to wear for the school year. She and many other students at MHS have chosen to wear jackets over their cropped clothing to avoid violating the dress code. Yoshimura said that she removed her jacket during lunch and was subsequently dress coded for showing her midriff.  

“I know a lot of people who have also gotten dress coded for half an inch [of their midriff showing] so I measured afterward,” Yoshimura said. “I had 2.7 inches of my stomach out so I guess I wasn’t surprised that I got dress coded.”

Yoshimura said that she feels that the new dress code is mostly justified, however, a complete ban on any portion of the midriff showing is irrational, as crop tops are popular right now and a majority of what is available in stores, making them generally what students wear. 

“I don’t think stomachs are a distraction to education,” Yoshimura said. “If [administration would] put a maximum of how many inches can be out, I think that would be more reasonable.”

The 2022-23 MHS dress code policy also specifies that students cannot wear any clothing depicting “violent language or images, any illegal item or activity or sexually suggestive content.” Yoshimura said that she has noticed shirts with violent graphics not getting dress coded as often as women’s clothing with midriff exposure.

“I think this might be limiting what girls can wear to school,” Yoshimura said. “It’s more targeted toward girls because I don’t see guys get dress coded.”

Yoshimura and many students at MHS have to adjust their wardrobes as a result of the difference in dress code policies from the 2021-22 school year. She said that she felt more free to wear what she wanted last year, and most of her tops are cropped, but now when shopping, she’s more conscious of whether her clothes are within the dress code. 

“Every morning, I’m more aware of what I wear to school now and I’m adjusting and I constantly bring a jacket,” Yoshimura said.

Although this change focuses on students, MHS staff have also been impacted. MHS math teacher Kristina Broaddrick said that she is happy about this new dress code policy. She said that she likes the new dress code because it establishes clothing that is appropriate for the school day and school environment. Broaddrick said that she feels that this dress code not only increases overall comfort level but also creates some form of uniformity that is beneficial to everybody.

“I think it’s really important to think about time and place. No one’s saying that the clothes that are not appropriate here are always not appropriate,” Broaddrick said. “School is a certain period of hours that as a student, there are certain clothes that are going to be appropriate for this.”

Broaddrick said that she feels that the past dress code caused the school to be too relaxed around clothing, however, defining a dress code is difficult due to different body types. For example, in the past, Mason has had a requirement that shorts must meet the end of the fingertips. Broaddrick said that she feels that requirements like this are unreasonable because everyone has different arm lengths. She said that she likes the current dress code because there is no variable for body type. 

“There are just so many pieces that go into how you decide what’s appropriate and what’s not appropriate, and so to really take a step back and say, bare-bones, this is what’s needed,  takes all of that out of the equation,” Broaddrick said. 

Broaddrick also said that she feels that this dress code aids in creating standards to ensure a safer learning environment for all.

“I think that having those standards helps keep all of us within the guardrails,” Broaddrick said. “We can take care of each other a little bit better this way.”

Despite the varying impacts the 2022-23 dress code policy has had on students and staff, Dodd said that this is a policy decided through collaboration between students and teachers and this demonstrates the intentional work being put into creating a better environment at MHS. Students and staff are able to share their feedback and see real changes based on this. Dodd said that this is all done with the best interest of students and staff in mind, and that feedback will continue to be valued in the future. 

“We’re open to getting feedback and we’re also open to making changes based on the feedback if that creates the best learning environment for our students and staff and if it’s in the best interest of our students,” Dodd said.