Schools have always had dress codes. Some rules were made for safety precautions, others simply to regulate indecent attire. But are public schools taking it too far? Area students have conflicting opinions.
Brittany Packard, a senior at Lackawanna High School, says that there is nothing wrong with her school’s regulations on attire.
“I think our current dress code is fine, it gets the job done without being really strict,” Brittany said.
Mike Lepkowski, a senior at Orchard Park High School, has a similar opinion.
“I think dress codes are good and needed, but flawed in a few places,” Mike said.
However, students from Frontier and West Seneca West high schools see things very differently.
“I think it’s a major subtract from freedom of speech but a necessary point of contention,” says Trek Fulater, a senior from West Seneca West. “While I believe fully [in] the ability to remove profanity and sexually charged comments, some of the things like cheer clothing and chains are just forms of self-expression.”
Trek also mentioned that enforcing the dress code is an obstacle that gets in the way of class time.
“I think that the rules forcing teachers to go after violators interrupts the learning process and is ultimately a doomed endeavor. It doesn’t change anything,” he said.
Jillian Pappagallo, a senior at West Seneca West, has a different bone to pick with the school’s dress code.
“It doesn’t handle the girls who wear short shorts and pencil skirts with revealing shirts,” Jillian says. “I would love to make a specific rule that stated that girls can’t wear the least amount of clothing possible.”
Courtney Browning, a senior at Frontier, disagrees, saying that it’s the students’ responsibility and dress codes aren’t necessary.
“I think that schools definitely go overboard on the dress codes,” Courtney said. “Some of them I understand are put in effect because they think students’ clothes are too revealing or distracting to other students. But in all other cases I don’t think they are needed. By high school you should be mature enough to handle the way people dress and mature enough to know what is school-appropriate and what isn’t.”
However, Frontier Principal Jeffrey Sortisio believes that Frontier’s dress code is necessary.
“We are very clear that we are not the fashion police,” Sortisio said. “Our goal is not to judge students’ attire in terms of aesthetic acceptability. As a large suburban high school, we have all genre of students represented. They are free to express themselves within reason and within the tenets of the code of conduct. Dress that is deemed distracting to the school environment is prohibited. Basically, one student’s idea of fashion cannot interfere with another’s opportunity to learn. As with all areas of the code of conduct, we strive to be fair and consistent. I do think we meet that mark more often than not.”
But what about those students who don’t care what is school-appropriate and what isn’t? Perhaps if dress codes were more lenient, the only students affected would be the ones truly dressing indecently.
“As long as nothing is showing completely or see-through then I think it’s fine,” Courtney said. “As hot as the school gets, if I wore shorts down to my fingertips, I would be sweating all day.”
Brittany mentioned the heat as well. “The only thing I’d change is for it to allow us to wear modest tank tops (two-finger width straps) because it gets pretty warm toward the end of the year.”
Aside from the obvious articles of clothing addressed in a dress code handbook, West Seneca West also has regulations on students carrying bags. Female students are allowed to carry any sort of bags they choose, despite the unenforced rule that states bags must be folder-sized or smaller, and male students are prohibited from carrying anything.
“It’s ridiculous,” Trek said. “I think it’s absolutely horrific that the West Seneca administration bent over for all of the girls and then enforced the bag policy on the guys. Enough with the double rule.”
Jillian agrees. “I don’t think its fair that the girls are allowed to carry around the oversized bags and the guys can’t carry the drawstring bags.”
She believes it would be better (and much more fair) to allow everyone to carry bags and just regulate the size.
“Girls don’t need the bags as big as a suitcase inside school,” she said. “They only serve as a cover-up for texting. As for their feminine products, there are other means to hide them or keep them safe.”
While West Seneca West’s dress code doesn’t specifically state anything regarding bags, Principal Jay Brinker, who has been principal for a year, is investigating the source of the rule.
“I never knew where the bag issue came from,” Brinker said. “At the end of last year when students came to me and said, ‘Mr. Brinker, the boys can never wear bags,’ I saw a bit of inequality. I started my safety team on why do we have this rule, why do we have this and what are the recommendations from the FBI or the secret service on carrying bags. What are parents’, students’ and faculty opinions on this issue?”
Brinker is determined on finding the reasons behind the rule as well as setting equal standards for both male and female students. He even took a leap of faith and put school funding into buying mesh drawstring bags for the students, especially the boys, to use.
“I didn’t think the students would go for it. I thought maybe we’d sell the hundred we ordered over the summer over the course of a few school years, maybe even just this one if we were lucky,” he said. “We sell them in the school store for $5 and … about 250 have sold already. We’ll sell them at cost for $7.50 [in] October.”
Despite the general acceptance of the mesh bags in the student population, Brinker still wants to get to the bottom of the issue and have the ability to explain why the rule is in place when students ask.
“I like my job. I like working with kids, I really do,” Brinker said. “I want them to come and talk to me, most of the time they want to talk about rules. I have three daughters. I like to explain why. I don’t just say, ‘Don’t touch the hot stove,’ let me tell you why you shouldn’t, why it’s not allowed. Right now I don’t have those answers but I can assure you I will.”
The general consensus seems to be that school dress codes are necessary, but in some cases too strict in certain areas and not strict enough on the rules that really need to be enforced.
Brittany offered one last thought on the matter: “I think dress codes are needed. They are there to make the school look presentable. Well-dressed students make the school look more put together.”
Hannah Gordon is a senior at Immaculata Academy.