Knox County Schools have a dress code, but after ten years in the school system, I wonder if it is a dress code or a shame code. Some of the rules are outdated, targeted at girls, and are enforced with no continuity.
Before you get too mad, I believe Knox County MUST have a dress code. I totally understand that if they didn’t have a policy about how kids dress, there would be kids coming to school looking like…well, you know. But my issue is more with the outdated rules and how they choose to enforce them. It’s willy-nilly and depends on which teacher sees you, how good or bad you look in your clothes, which gender you are, if you have pretty skin, and if you meet a certain ascetically-pleasing view point (i.e., there is a lot of fat shaming going on). I know there was a petition recently about the fingertip rule (I signed it), and there were several stories of girls not allowed into proms last spring for dress code violations.
Let’s tackle some of this with a few examples, shall we?
Example 1: Tight fitting clothes, like leggings and t-shirts which leave little to the imagination. Knox County says this about it: “Prohibited…skin-tight outer materials such as spandex.” The student gets the opportunity to change clothes or face in-school suspension. The policy also states that this is up to the administration to determine “whether the student’s attire is within the limits of decency and modesty.” Look around at the styles these days — every store has leggings and tunics. Obviously, kids want to wear what is in style. As long as the girls cover their bottoms with a tunic-length shirt, this should be perfectly acceptable, right?
Leggings are not pants, and I am not saying they should be worn as pants. But should middle school girls be pulled out of class and forced to change clothes just because they have leggings on their legs? This happened to us and also to other girls at several different schools, and in each case these girls were not showing any part of their body that should not have been seen. Several of the girls actually had on skirts or dresses over their leggings, and were still forced to change clothes. Had they worn the skirts or dresses on their own, they would not have been called out. That’s insane and just ridiculous.
There is a whole other group of girls who get called out because their shirts are too tight, but it’s not because they are showing off their assets. This is aimed at plus-sized girls who are wearing the same type of clothes the rest of the kids are; they just might fit them a little differently.
Example 2: Fingertip length shorts and dresses/skirts. This is one of the hardest policies to enforce, and I actually feel sorry for the teachers that must try. Because every kid has different length arms, fingers, and legs, fingertip length will be different on each child. Both my teen and I have what we lovingly refer to as “go-go-gadget” arms. That’s right: our arms are so long, we compare them to Mr. Gadget’s arms. Our fingertips hit our kneecaps. Might be a mutation or something, but whatever it is, it makes it impossible to buy any shorts or dresses that are of “legal” length, at least in the girl/women departments.
On the same token, I do not let her wear shorts that are too short. I don’t want to see her tush hanging out as she walks away, and I certainly do not want anyone else seeing it! We try everything on before buying to make sure it’s long enough. An easy adjustment to this policy would be to say that shorts must be so many inches long, or so many inches from the waist. I don’t know this magic number, but I am sure there is one. We’ve broken this dress code, too, unfortunately, and not on purpose. We had been seeing lots of kids wearing shorts and she just hated having to be outside in the 95-degree heat in jeans, so she found her longest pair of shorts and wore them. Even though they were fine, showed nothing and were a 7” inseam (as opposed to 3” or 5” inseam shorts that are very popular), she was put through the fingertip test that day and failed. She called me crying and I really wanted to throw a fit and say “NO! I’m your mom and I say it’s fine!” But I also do not want to be known as “that mom,” so I just brought her clothes.
One contributor shared a story about the her 6th grader on the first week of school being subjected to “short checks.” Literally, someone would barge into the classroom, announce “Short checks!” and then had all of the GIRLS stand and do the fingertip test. So right when our girls are the most vulnerable (remember 6th grade?), they are made to feel embarrassed and humiliated in front of the entire class. I can only imagine them praying silently that their shorts would just be long enough so they weren’t called out further. Why are the boys not subjected to these checks?
I have also seen adorable high school girls walking to their cars in cutoff jean shorts that were so short I could actually see their butt cheeks. They were beautiful girls, long hair, tan skinned. I can’t help but wonder if they weren’t made to change clothes because either the teacher just didn’t notice, or because they are pretty and popular and the same rules just don’t apply to them. Things that make you go “hmm?”
Example 3: All shirts must have sleeves. I get that you can’t wear tank tops, halter-tops, crop tops, and backless tops, but a shirt that doesn’t have sleeves? Surely there is a happy medium between hooker on the street and modestly dressed! I’m actually embarrassed to say we have broken this rule, too. She wore a very cute black tunic shirt that is very long, has a high neck, a hood, and happens to be sleeveless. You can see from the picture, there is nothing showing here except her arms.
What exactly is the reason we can’t see girls’ arms? I have heard some people say it’s because it is distracting to the boys. I pray there is another reason than this, although I can’t figure one out. You know what? Teens are just wired to see each other in a sexual light. That isn’t bad. But we can teach them to respect each other, and that seeing a shoulder shouldn’t negate that respect. What our children see on social media, television, movies, and the internet is far worse, but that is an entirely different subject for a different post.
One contributor shared an eye-opening story that happened in a local high school just last week. There were a group of boys that were wearing basketball jerseys, which just so happen to be tank top/sleeveless. The principal walked into the classroom, patted one kid on the back and said in a joking manner, “You boys are violating the dress code. Don’t you know if you’re going to wear a tank top you have to shave your pits?” Everyone laughed, except the girls in the room. One girl said, “We shave our pits and we can’t wear tank tops.” To which the principal either didn’t hear or chose to ignore and swiftly left the room. Those girls were left feeling angry and hurt. Basketball jerseys are probably an exception to the rules, and allowed for special occasions, but to joke about it was completely inappropriate.