Unfounded rumors that leggings, yoga pants, and skinny jeans have been banned at Haven Middle School in north Evanston were addressed at a special meeting of the school’s Principal’s Advisory Team yesterday, resulting in a clarifying statement being posted on the district’s website today.

“Despite rumors,” the statement read, “these clothing items have not been banned at the school, and the same dress code remains in place since the fall of this school year.”

Students at Haven have been told that “if leggings are worn, a shirt, shorts, or skirt worn over them must be fingertip length,” the statement said.

The dress code applies to all schools in the Evanston/Skokie District 65 system and has been placed on the agenda of the April 1 meeting of the board’s Policy Committee for discussion.

Presently, the question of proper attire is addressed in a one-paragraph statement on Page 31 of the district’s Parent/Student Handbook. It says:

“Student appearance, including dress and grooming, must not disrupt the educational process, interfere with maintaining a positive teaching/learning climate, or compromise reasonable standards for health, safety, and decency. Short‐shorts (less than fingertip length) and bare midriff shirts are not appropriate attire. Shirts should encircle the arm. Hats and outerwear are only to be worn outside of school. Clothing that advertises alcohol or makes reference to anything of questionable moral value is not permitted.”

The district acknowledged that concerns have been raised by several parents about the impact the dress code has on body image and societal views of boys and girls.

Some parents have maintained that the code, in essence, blames girls for inciting improper actions on the part of boys.

The statement said, however, that   “the enforcement of the dress code is not in response to the perceived distraction certain clothing may or may not cause and is not a mechanism in which to place blame. The school dress code is enforced in an effort to maintain a respectful learning environment for all.”

The April 1 meeting of the Policy Committee will begin at 6 p.m. at the district’s headquarters at 1500 McDaniel Ave. and is open to the public.

Charles Bartling

A resident of Evanston since 1975, Chuck Bartling holds a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and has extensive experience as a reporter and editor for daily newspapers, radio...

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  1. Pants
    All workplaces have standards for dress.

    D65 has the right and responsibility to set and enforce any dress code it chooses in order to maintain an orderly learning environment for all students and teachers, regardless of body type or gender. We might not all agree on all the details of what constitutes dress that is conducive to learning, but let's be honest: When middle school girls wear yoga pants with shirts that do not cover their bottoms, it is distracting for boys and girls alike (including for the male and female teachers)–and not necessarily because all onlookers are being stimulated in the wrong ways.

    Modesty and respect for others, not unfettered freedom of expression, should be the guiding principles in buying clothes and deciding what to wear every morning. The plain fact is that what we wear gives people an impression of who we are and what we value. All adolescents, male and female, need help in understanding what impressions they are conveying thru their dress. I'm not sure staging a protest for the "right" to wear leggings is beneficial toward that or any other end.

    Thank you to the district for providing clarity and reason on a matter that a few vocal parents obscured.


    1. pants yes, any dress code, not quite

      Yes of course the school can have a dress code, but only insofar as it complies with the Constitution
      This dress code surely does comply with the constitution in how it is worded and may or may not comply with the constitution in how it is enforced. 
      So yes you are correct that they can have a dress code but they cannot have ANY dress code as you say (for example they could not have a dress code that forbids t-shirts the support Republican political candidates or one that forbids expressions of religious belief). his is why so many schools have uniforms — if particualr colors express certain things and the constitution protects freedom of expression, it becomes easier to just have a uniform.
      1. Point taken

        Yes, point taken. Within the bounds of the Constitution. Numerous court cases have tested what exactly this means (e.g., Tinker v. Des Moines, Guiles v. Marineau). In general, courts have given schools a wide berth to discern what kind of clothing can or does prompt distraction.

        1. not very wide latitude

          Tinker is still the controlling authority which held that clothes/messages which distract from the educaitonal mission can be banned.  So far, the only thing that has been held to do that are messages about drugs and alcohol (bong hits for jesus – Morse v Frederick) and gang symbols.  This is far afield of the leggings quesiton, but just so the constitutional standard is clear about expressive messages.

        1. Uniforms

          The idea of wearing uniforms to school goes back centuries, really. Think private boarding schools in Europe and on the east coast. Then and today, more formal uniforms ostensibly convey values of high behavioral and academic standards, decorum, community, and prestige.

          In general, schools that move from not having uniforms to having them cite reasons having to do with curbing distractions, reducing behavioral infractions of various kinds, and increasing safety, attendance, and academic achievement.

          The main argument against school uniforms is that it infringes on students’ freedom of speech. A parent argument might also raise issues about the “hardships” of adhering to the uniform code. (That is, with school uniforms usually come with rules about the uniform being clean, pressed, within certain length or color guidelines, etc.) Private schools that have broken with the tradition of wearing uniforms and have either a loose dress code or none at all probably use student freedom and the importance of conveying identity as a rationale.

          Moving from not having uniforms to having them typically involves establishing a “business casual” code. That said, there is a difference between establishing a uniform, either school-issued or parent-directed according to strict guidelines, and having a stricter dress code (e.g., students can't wear jeans, girls must wear skirts).

          I don't know the data on this, but in the past 20 years, adopting a school uniform-like policy is more often move taken on in urban, working class, or even rural schools with higher minority and/or less economically-advantaged populations, than it is in affluent suburbs. Cynics might contend that in these places, school uniforms are a way for leaders and teachers (still largely white and middle-class in this country) to “control” or homogenize and de-humanize a lower-class population of students.

          There’s a nice study by Ryan Yeung (2009) that uses a couple national databases to examine the potential relationships between some of the above-mentioned factors and school uniforms. His results don’t really support either side. Usually, districts/schools that convert from not having uniforms to having them (or the other way around) evaluate the success of the change using their own data. (For example, have we seen an increase or decrease in x or y since the implementation of a school uniform policy?) Like all evaluation of change initiatives in schools, it is difficult to isolate variables and establish causality or even weak correlations. Sometimes internal studies will also incorporate perceptual data (from parents, students, teachers) to gauge the influence of the change.

          I’m fine without uniforms and fine with them. Just tell me what my kids should and shouldn’t wear to school and I’ll gladly uphold the standard in addition to my own. 😉 Even within school uniforms, there is usually choice and room for students to personalize. Goodness knows that adolescents will push the envelope in any case!

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