Dress Codes: A Life-Sucking-Stress-Inducer?



You know the expression, darned if you do, darned if you don’t. Maybe you’re familiar with a more colorful version of the line, but I’m not looking for controversy and often neither are school administrators. Regardless of such wishes, none are immune from drama finding them wherever they hide, which is hopefully in a classroom trying to do a teacher observation.

Yet another dress code violation story has hit the news as we ring in 2016. You’ve probably seen the one, where the girl is sent home for an inappropriate outfit that violates the code, her livid mother takes photos of said offending fashion statement, and then plasters them all over social media to rally support for her daughter’s sense of style. Not sure if the one you’re thinking of is the same? Does it matter?  Let’s say it is.

Stories like these go viral and often international, and they make me wince. They’re representative of no-win situations for public schools and are examples of when culture war combatants avoid each other’s disagreements during a majority of their daily lives, until their children wind up being subject to one school’s policy on (holidays, appropriate attire, curriculum, etc.).
Quite often readers might ask, “Why would the school pick this fight?” Although there might be numerous reasons, including the personal perspective of its administration, it’s often because they were encouraged to do so by equally vocal community members whose concerns with things like dress codes drove the creation of a policy that must have an arbitrary “cut off point.”  You know, thresholds such as observable collar bones or shorts that go beyond finger-tips. Resisting such a policy means the picking of another battle. Either way, there’s is a battle.
For those readers who believe the school should take such actions, they also ignore the most obvious reason for not doing so. A story like the one cited above becomes the Life-Sucking-Stress-Inducer that diverts a school’s attention from what it’s actually held accountable for: basic safety and advanced student learning.
And for those who consider themselves pragmatists and reasonably ask, “Why not have common sense dress code policies?” I applaud your logic, but assert that there is no such thing when you are the policy writer and executer. To the outside world, common sense is logical but pliable. For parents battling over to what they want their children exposed, or how much they believe their children should be allowed to expose, there is no such thing. And they want the school to take a stand.
This sort of thing could happen to any school on any day. Every principal or policy is either considered “soft” or “militant” on accountability, or has simply been lucky enough to avoid an inevitable showdown by someone testing or really testing where the school stands.
Now if only those on both sides would spend as much energy lobbying for support of education funding for things like instructional coaches, maybe a principal could spend more energy on the important things.
You know, like how long a young girl’s arms happen to be at age 12, relative to their legs. Oops. I mean if their shorts are too short.

*Please note: I am not taking a position on either side of this argument. Just like most everyone else in America, I do not have enough information, and it’s not my place to do so in this forum. Plus, remember, I’m not looking for any trouble. It really doesn’t need help finding me.


Mike Lee

Mike Lee

Phoenix, Arizona

I am the Director of Outreach and Engagement for The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, and certified as a Middle Childhood Generalist in 2004. In 2012, I received my doctorate in educational leadership from Northern Arizona University, however, I began my work in education serving as a para-educator in a special education program while still an undergraduate. My passions in the field include assessment and reporting strategies, the evolving role of technology, teacher leadership, and effective professional development that permanently impacts instruction. I consider myself a professional teacher first, as well as a professionally evolving lifelong learner, who is incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to impact the lives of children.

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