New dress code implemented

Some middle school students unhappy with rules regarding what they can and can't wear

— A resounding groan and rolling of eyes came from the lunch table of a group of eighth-grade girls when asked about the new dress code at Steamboat Springs Middle School.

Dressed in low-rider shorts and tank tops, these girls clearly were not happy with the new rules designed to mitigate the belly-bearing, hip-hugging styles made popular by teen-age icons such as Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera.

"It sucks," Michelle Burns quickly said over her lunch break.

"It's unfair, because it's mainly pointed to girls," Amanda Enochs said at another table not far away.

"It eliminates one-half of the clothes in my closet," Hannah Zittel said on her way out of the school's cafeteria.

Weaving between these complaints was the teacher on lunch duty, Assistant Principal Jerry Buetler, who had heard these lines many times before.

In fact, when he went to school in the '70s, it wasn't the tank tops but the miniskirts that were drawing attention in and out of the classroom.

When student handbooks and planners were sent out to students in August, the school's new dress code came with it. The dress code was a result of a one-year committee of parents, students and staff that prepared a "Dress for Success" plan for the middle school.

Finalized late last spring, Bishop said the school waited until the start of the school year to initiate the rules.

Largely fashioned after but stricter than the high school dress code, the new rules require students to wear shirts that graze the top of pants, pants that are worn no lower than the top of hip level, clothing that is no higher than mid-thigh and footwear at all times.

It also restricts students from wearing hats or hoods; clothing, accessories or tattoos with obscenities; and clothing that does not cover traditional private areas or the back from the shoulder blades down.

Middle school parent Patti Poulsen, who worked on the committee, believes the dress codes makes for a better learning environment.

"Kids want to know, want boundaries. Because we wrote (the dress code) down and sent it out, everybody is clarified. Now, they can just concentrate on learning," she said.

But many of the girls at lunch are still concerned about the dress code.

They complained that the short shorts, low-riding jeans, halter tops, backless shirts and spaghetti-strapped tank tops all questionable under the new dress code are the styles being pushed toward preteen and teen-age girls.

"Yes and no," eighth-grader Ashley Arroyo said when asked if the influence of pop culture makes it difficult for girls to follow dress codes.

"It's getting harder and harder to buy the clothes the school wants us to wear," she said. "But, (clothing stores) make them how we want them."

Though students might be complaining in the lunchroom, Bishop said the new dress code has not stirred much trouble.

If students are in violation of the code, the school asks them to cover up the offensive clothing.

Some of the girls at the lunch table talked of having to tie sweaters around their waist to cover up midriff shirts or change into sweat pants because their shorts were too short.

In the first few weeks of school, students will mostly be made aware of what is inappropriate attire and told to change.

After repeated offenses, students could be sent home and given harsher punishment, Bishop said.

Bishop also plans to hold a fashion show sometime in the next two weeks so students can view what is expected in school.

One of the objectives of the dress code was to show students what was appropriate attire for certain occasions, a lesson they'll need in the working world, Poulsen said.

"We're trying to be very considerate of the students," she said. "We want to teach them to have respect and appropriate behavior. Everything isn't acceptable in every situation."

Last year, the committee surveyed students, parents and staff to find out what they believed should be in the dress code. Bishop said the ideas of what parents and students viewed as appropriate was 180 degrees.

"Overall, the kids didn't want any restrictions. One thing we did get was they didn't like being told what is OK to wear, but they don't think it is appropriate to wear a lot of skin," he said.

Buetler said that while the students do not want restrictions, parents do.

"Its a nice out for parents," Buetler said. "If the school says you can't do that, it's a little easier for parents to say that it is not appropriate."

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