CARBONDALE — Carbondale Community High School plans to revise its school dress code in response to complaints that the policies are unclear and disproportionately target female students.
The recent criticism coincides with a growing national movement against school attire rules, which activists say tend to body-shame young women.
Kylie Measimer and Amber-Rose Moore, both juniors at the high school, shared their frustrations over the dress code during a public-comment period at the Oct. 19 school board meeting.
Measimer, 17, was pulled out of class because of her attire twice over the course of two days earlier this year. She said she never intends to break the dress code.
“If the goal of the dress code is to maintain a school environment, to keep people learning, for one, you shouldn’t be removing people from class to do that,” Measimer said during a recent phone interview. “They don’t remove people who talk or text in class — they just tell them not to do that.”
If a student is believed to be in violation of the dress code, a teacher talks with him or her one-on-one about finding a change of clothes. Students are given two warnings every semester and are assigned detention the third time they break the dress code.
Some of the prohibited items in the current CCHS dress code include: any shirt that exposes the brassiere; rips in jeans that are higher than two inches above the knee; and leggings, yoga or running pants that aren’t worn under a skirt, a dress or shorts. Shorts, dresses and skirts must be mid-thigh in length. Also prohibited are clothing items that display or promote sexual innuendo, gang affiliation and derogatory writing or logos.
Moore, 16, has been “dress-coded” four times in her three years at the school — three times for wearing leggings and once for having holes in her pants.
“When I’m being told that a hole in my pants is more important than me going to class and getting my education, it’s kind of making me question, what is their actual purpose in having this dress code?” she said in a phone interview.
Moore said she doesn’t feel the dress code is sexist as written, but she believes the way it is being enforced is problematic.
“If a girl is showing a bra strap or the band of her underwear is showing, she’ll be sent to the office … but if a male is sagging, he’ll just be told to pull his pants up,” Moore said.
Measimer said being called out of class and singled out in front of one’s peers is “upsetting.”
“It’s just humiliating, you know, to be told you’re not dressed right. No matter how much you sugarcoat it, it really makes you feel like your body is wrong, what you have on is wrong, whether or not it really is,” she said.
Moore said she wanted to take a stand against the dress code when she noticed that the policies were making some of her female peers feel bad about themselves.
“I see them when they get dress-coded, walking down the hall to the principal’s office. Everybody’s looking at you. They know what happened, and that definitely does not feel good,” Moore said.
CCHS Superintendent Steve Murphy said the goal of the dress code is not to minimize distractions for male students.
“I’m not here, and the administration’s not here, to enforce any type of morality and to push anything on people about what they should wear or shouldn’t wear, and I’ll say this: in this district, it’s not up to the girls to control the behavior of the boys in the district. The behavior of the boys is their responsibility,” Murphy said.
CCHS Principal Daniel Booth said the recent problems with the dress code stem from changes that were made last year.
“Last year we had a parent say that they were having problems finding clothes that met the dress code, so they wanted us to look at it to see if there was any way we could change it. Which was not a bad idea, because I don’t think the dress code had had a massive review since I’ve been here as principal, and that was my sixth year as principal last year,” Booth said.
The Parent Advisory Committee, which consists of three to five parents representing each class, and the Student Advisory Committee, which is made up of the school’s elected class officers, were tasked with recommending the revisions. The minimum length of skirts, shorts and dresses — previously two inches above the knee — was changed to “mid-thigh.”
“Then the question is, ‘Well, where is mid-thigh?’ As an administrator, our goal is to make sure that everybody’s voice is heard and we land in a fair spot, but then, when you get to a place of being so subjective, is it really a fair spot when mid-thigh could be a different place for everybody when they’re leaving the house? … It was a good try, but I think we missed the mark on it,” Booth said.
Throughout the review of the dress code last year, the committees compared CCHS’s policies to nearby schools of comparable size.
“We are a more progressive district than some other schools, and we are more diverse than every other school in Southern Illinois, so we have more things to consider, just with our population,” Booth said.
Lack of clarity among administrators who enforce the policies makes things frustrating, according to Moore. She said two administrators gave her different definitions of “mid-thigh”: one was measuring from the hip and one was measuring from the pelvic bone.
“I think the fact that the dress code is so gray-area, it makes it harder on the administrators. I don’t blame them, they’re doing their job. They are trying to enforce it the way that it’s written, but the way that it’s written in the rule book is hard for everyone to follow,” Moore said.
Murphy said the next step will be gathering feedback from students and parents in order to implement new changes to the dress code next year.
“Some of that gray area caused us some problems, so we’re just going back to the drawing board again with the parents and students and looking for a workable policy,” Murphy said. “There was some ridiculous misinformation out there on social media, that we were suspending kids out of school and everything else. That’s just not the case. We made some changes in response to parents and students, and it seems like it didn’t quite work out like we thought, so we’re just going to get some feedback and make some more changes.”
The Parent Advisory Committee will begin reviewing the policy at its next meeting on Tuesday.
“I want to make sure that our students feel heard, I want to make sure that our parents feel heard, I want to make sure they have a voice in the process and I want them to understand that we value their voice, and that this is not like the Ten Commandments. … This is not a situation where the administration has said, this is what it’s gonna be and you just need to comply with it. So we’re open to continuing the conversation and finding the right spot,” Booth said.
Booth said he encouraged Moore and Measimer to attend the Oct. 19 board meeting to voice their opinions constructively.
“The other thing that I want to make sure that we’re always doing is that we’re teaching our students to advocate in the appropriate way. The answer to not liking the dress code is not to disobey it, it’s to help find solutions,” Booth said.