More to the Story: Dress Code
Reporting by Eric Hauptman, Dean Simons, Sofia Sterbenk, Lexi Thibault, and Ashti Tiwari
She’s heard it all.
“Zip it up.” “Your midriff is showing.” “Too much skin.”
Wearing her corduroy green skirt and fitted crop top, sophomore Charlotte Ribble’s initial excitement for her outfit was overwhelmed by the familiar feeling of being dress coded.
“Getting dress coded can be such a diminishing thing, especially if you worked really hard on an outfit and you really loved it and you’re really confident in it. Then, when you get dress coded, it makes you insecure in that outfit,” Ribble said.
The Corning-Painted Post Area School District’s dress code, listed in the 2021-2022 edition of the Policy and Procedures handbook, consisted of 11 rules. Students should “recognize that extremely brief garments… are not appropriate” and “stomach, back, buttocks, and chest must be completely covered.”
For Dean of Students Jamie Smith, implementing and enforcing the dress code prepared students for professional life beyond high school.
“I think the strength of the dress code would be in setting a standard. I would love to come to school in my sweatpants and comfy shoes every day, but I can’t do that. I think part of our job as teachers and administrators and adults is to prepare students for life after this,” Smith said.
However, in a Oct. 2022 report to Congress, the Government Accountability Office stated, “Districts more frequently restrict items typically worn by girls—such as skirts, tank tops, and leggings—than those typically worn by boys—such as muscle shirts.” This view was fuel for change, and districts started to roll out new dress codes accounting for modern fashion, trends, and the opinions of the public.
Ribble’s frustration in the hallways extended to the swim unit in Physical Education class.
“I definitely think that the dress code is sexist. A man can sit there in a swimming class with just swimming shorts on, but then women aren’t allowed to wear bikinis. We have to wear T-shirts and shorts, or a one piece. They restrict us so much just because we’re girls, when guys are sitting there completely shirtless,” Ribble said.
To address these concerns, Superintendent of Schools Michelle Caulfield formed a committee of administrators, teachers and students over the summer of 2022 to evaluate dress code policies.
“The committee was tasked by Mrs. Caulfield to look at the trends compared to our current policy to figure out ways that we can either make it consistent or change it based on the times,” Smith said. “We have looked at other schools nationwide. We’re just trying to get a feel for how it looks around the nation and around our area.” The committee planned to address the consistency of how dress code policies were enforced, which varied among faculty and administrators.
“Deans of Students are trying to do their job, and their job is to enforce the board approved code of conduct. If the Code of Conduct says X,Y, and Z, then as an administrator, you’re just trying to do your best to abide by those expectations,” Math Teacher Kristen Drehmer said. “People like myself who don’t turn in kids for dress code can make other people feel bad for turning students in due to dress code.”
Business Teacher Christopher Asiello was careful in enforcing the dress code on female or female-identifying students, aware of the potential concerns he faced as a male teacher.
“You have to be careful of what you say, because you don’t want to come across as being sexist,” Asiello said.
Hats, which were forbidden by the policies, presented a constant issue for staff and faculty tasked with enforcing the dress code.
“From talking to the School Resource Officers, if you wear a hat in the school the cameras can’t help us identify the face, so if you’re doing something wrong, we don’t necessarily know who it is,” Asiello said.
However, students challenged the policy with headwear that they felt didn’t come in conflict with those security concerns.
“I understand that hats can block the face and security footage,” senior Ian Staller said. “But why stop people from wearing beanies or hats without brims? It’s just adding to the top of the person, not blocking their facial features.”
Staller had experience with dress code enforcement when he wore a sweatshirt in memory of a family member. It contained a song lyric that mentioned alcohol.
“It said ‘Smooth like Tennessee whiskey, and as sweet as strawberry wine.’ I have it because my mother’s father died of cancer and that was his favorite song lyric. My mom got it put on a sweatshirt so I wear it as a memoir,” Staller said.
Junior Sirilatmanee Fisher believed the dress code should change with the times.
“I definitely think that the school should keep up with the new generations and understand that it is more acceptable to show our skin and express our sexuality and creativity,” Fisher said.
With the committee’s ongoing work, some hoped that the dress code could be amended to be more equitable.
“I think that dress codes in general perpetuate the idea that the way you dress or the amount of skin that you’re showing causes other people to act a certain way. In my opinion, my body, her body, their body, nobody’s body causes another person’s decision. Saying that someone can’t have a spaghetti strap on is essentially saying that too much of a shoulder is distracting the whole room from being able to learn,” Drehmer said. “It’s an old-school kind of feeling, and that’s why they’re working to fix it. It hasn’t gotten to the point where they’ve amended it, but I feel hopeful that they’re going to.”