Haven students protest dress code over leggings, yoga pants

Female students at Haven Middle School are protesting the dress code which restricts leggings and yoga pants to keep from distracting boys. | File
Female students at Haven Middle School are protesting the dress code which restricts leggings and yoga pants to keep from distracting boys. | File

“Are my pants lowering your test scores?” reads one poster at Haven Middle School, where students are protesting a school dress code limiting leggings or yoga pants — which students say is sexist and unfair.

Many girls wore leggings or yoga pants to school in protest March 18, and more than 500 students have signed a petition opposing the rules on leggings and yoga pants, which they’ve been told are “too distracting to boys,” according to seventh-grader Sophie Hasty, 13.

“Not being able to wear leggings because it’s ‘too distracting for boys’ is giving us the impression we should be guilty for what guys do,” Hasty said in an e-mail. “We just want to be comfortable!”

Protest began bubbling among students and parents the previous week, when parent Juliet Bond said her daughter and other girls came home reporting that the school had officially banned leggings and yoga pants. Under the previous policy, girls could wear leggings, but their shirts had to come down low enough so the shirt hit their fingertips when they stood up, Bond said.

She was upset enough that she wrote a letter to the Haven Middle School Principal Kathleen Roberson.

“For me, it’s about shaming girls about their bodies,” Bond said. “It’s this message across genders that girls have to cover up, and teachers saying to girls, the reason for this rule is so that boys aren’t distracted.”

“At what point do you take girls out of school altogether because boys can’t handle it?” she said.

In a letter sent to parents March 18, Roberson said the school had not changed its dress code at all, and there is no ban on leggings or yoga pants.

“It has been communicated to students that ‘if leggings are worn, a shirt, shorts, or skirt worn over them must be fingertip length,’” the letter said. “At Haven, dress and appearance are important components of an overall positive and respectful learning environment.”

Roberson, who did not respond to multiple requests for comment, said in her e-mail that the Haven Principal’s Advisory Team would be reviewing the policy at its March 25 meeting.

District 65 spokesperson Melissa Burda said that the Parent/Student Handbook contains general guidelines about student attire, but some schools have specific rules as well.

“Going forward, this issue will be discussed in an effort to ensure consistency in terms of guidelines and enforcement across schools,” she said.

After she wrote the letter, Bond said Roberson called her, and the two had a “very positive” conversation about the issue.

“She is taking this issue seriously and trying to figure out a way to tamp down the sexualization of middle school girls … and balance the messages we as adults convey to them in a more positive way,” Bond said.

Still, she said she’s worried that telling girls to cover up because it’s too distracting for boys might send the message that they should be ashamed of their bodies and that they are responsible for how boys behave — at a very delicate age.

In particular, she said those students who were getting “dress-coded,” or disciplined for their attire, tended to be girls who were more developed. That inconsistent enforcement simply makes girls embarrassed, she said.

Seventh-grader Lucy Shapiro, 12, said she had firsthand experience of that inconsistent enforcement, when both she and a friend were wearing the same type of athletic shorts, and a teacher came up and “dress-coded” her, but not her friend.

“I asked, ‘Why just me?’ and she said it was because I had a different body type than my friend,” Shapiro said. “With all the social expectations of being a girl, it’s already hard enough to pick an outfit without adding in the dress code factor.”

9 Comments

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