How schools and students compromise on academic attire

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published September 2, 2015

 Dress codes at schools are meant to keep students comfortable but focused, administrators say.

Dress codes at schools are meant to keep students comfortable but focused, administrators say.


METRO DETROIT — Sixteen-year-old Samantha Noles, of Northville, is no stranger to the ins and outs of the high school scene.

As a junior at Northville High School, she knows what administrators expect of her as a high-achieving student and athlete — and that includes what they expect her to wear down the hallways.

“It’s pretty clear-cut. The school says that if you’re wearing shorts, they have to be middle finger length, and tank tops have to be three fingers’ width,” said Noles. “But, being on the volleyball team, I can definitely say the dress code is a little different in the gym.”

While dress code rules aren’t a daily woe for Noles, she said she’s had a couple of run-ins with school administrators about whether her tank top meets standards of appropriateness. It’s a simple fix of throwing on a sweatshirt for the remainder of the day, but typically teachers act fairly when it comes to school styles, she said.

“Really, just the length of shorts are a problem for girls at our school. Girls wear shorts all the time they think are appropriate, but they get sent down to the office to change. But I’ve never had to go home, and they’re not super strict or anything,” she said.

Dress codes are hardly a new part of student life, according to Joseph Konal, chief academic officer for Warren Consolidated Schools. There are plenty of things to distract youngsters from their lessons in class, and educators just want to eliminate distractions whenever possible.

“The bottom line is the students’ dress should not interfere with the educational program in the buildings. It has to be appropriate so as not to disrupt the educational process,” said Konal.

While there are no rules, per se, there are guidelines for each school in the WCS district to outline what’s acceptable for the class setting. Administrators at each building are the ones to determine and implement the guidelines.

Most of the schools are relatively lenient as to what students can sport, with the exception of the length of shorts, width of tank straps and content of the messages on graphic tees. But, like what Noles experienced, the goal is to get students to cover up — not kick them out.

“There have been times when students were sent to the office to get a change of clothes from their parents because what they were wearing wasn’t conducive to learning,” he said. “Some of our schools may have extra clothes in the main office so (students) can throw something on over their outfit, but we want kids to know they need to come to school ready to learn. And if you walk down our halls, I think you’d see there’s pretty good compliance with that.”

The graphic tee messages, Konal explained, could lead to other students being offended or distracted. As for the short-shorts and spaghetti-strap tops, that’s just a matter of avoiding potential ogling, he said.

“If a student is exposing too much skin, the student behind them might be paying more attention to them instead of to the teacher,” he said.

Noles said she understands the reason for the almost universal school dress standard, but sometimes feels like it’s not enforced equally between guys and gals.

“(Boys) don’t really have any issues with the whole shorts thing, but they wear cutoff tank tops that they’d wear working out, and no one really bothers them about that,” she said. “I think it’s unfair, definitely.”

Noles said the inequality is even more obvious when it comes to gym time or athletic practices, and she can’t think of a time when a male coed was reported for indecent dress.

Konal said young gents are just as much subject to dress guidelines as ladies at WCS. It all comes down to what attire will set a student up for success, he said, which is why there are no set rules — it’s really at the discretion of the instructor.

“We set expectations and standards, not rules. Otherwise, we’d be reacting every time someone thought something isn’t right,” he said. “We tell students all the time it’s not a fashion show and they’re here to learn.”