Conflicting dress codes raise hackles

Leggings and yoga pants made headlines recently when Minnetonka High School administration sent an e-mail to parents asking that students “cover their butts up.”  The e-mail and its subsequent press attention brought forth a discussion of SPA’s own dress code regarding form-hugging clothing.

In the Upper School, many female students wear leggings or yoga pants. But only a few yards away in the Middle School, virtually no girls wear them in the same fashion. Rumors have circulated for years about a legging and yoga pants ban in the Middle School. Many students believe that the Middle School’s rules are strict and confusing. These different standards of dress bring difficulties for two schools sharing combined space.

Everyday, middle schoolers walk through the Upper School to go to gym class, lunch and the library. Additionally, upper schoolers walk through the MS wing for art, publications and other classes. Many members of the freshmen class come from the middle School and must adjust to the different rules and schedules. Others come to SPA from schools that had uniforms or different dress codes. How do students know what is appropriate? How can school administrators monitor their student’s dress when two systems are constantly blended every day?

Middle schoolers are actually allowed to wear leggings and yoga pants, but they need to have a shirt that reaches their fingertips and covers their behinds. Were this rule applied in the Upper School, students would breach it constantly.

Every Middle School student has the Middle School Handbook, which includes the dress code, in their planners and have conversations with their advisory about clothing rules. MS principal Dr. Jill Romans explained that the separate set of rule exists for developmental reasons.  It is imperative that Middle School students dress appropriately for a learning environment. Tight and revealing clothing such as leggings are not just distracting for other students, but everyone. “It’s boys, it’s girls, it’s teachers,” Romans said. Romans explained that she thinks that it can be hard for the younger students to see the high school students wearing different and more revealing clothing, but they are not trying to change their own dress code. “I don’t think that it is so much about what they can and cannot wear, they do definitely look at the high school and wonder why it is that they get to have a different dress code,” Romans said.

Rules regarding clothing in the Upper School are different for many reasons. While the middle school dress code is well defined, the upper school code is more open to interpretation and creates general guidelines for dress. While the middle school dress code is regulated by adults, the Upper School dress code was a collaboration of the administration and the Upper School Council over 15 years ago. According to the Upper School Handbook, this rule states that “all clothing must be neat, clean and in good repair, appropriate to the activity and not a distraction from learning environment for fellow students or faculty. In all instances, modesty is expected.” This rule has stayed almost the same for many years.

Dean of Students Judy Cummins said that Upper School and Middle School students are at different developmental stages, which justifies separate rules. Similarly, in the Upper School, freshmen don’t get to leave campus while seniors can. If everyone had the same rules, there would be no sense of distinction between different age groups and grade levels. More choices in what clothing one wears is a privilege that Upper School students enjoy because of their age. Students have the right to make their own decisions regarding their appearance, yet the administration will step in if outfits are too distracting or inappropriate. Regarding leggings, Cummins stated that “we do monitor [students’ clothing choices]. Everyone knows there is a norm of leggings, and there are those who are outside the norm.”

Students need to understand that the two schools have different rules for good reasons. Upper School students are fortunate that the administration allows them to wear controversial clothing such as leggings. Many other private schools have uniforms that limit students expressing their style and personality. We are privileged enough to make our own decisions regarding what we wear. While there’s nothing wrong with using that privilege, it comes with the responsibility to respect the dress code and to keep our clothing appropriate. The rules are what they are for a good reason. While it’s important that we know what those reasons are, we should also respect the decisions of the administration and follow the rules.