The dress code at Haven Middle School was reviewed Tuesday evening after confusion over a policy regarding leggings spurred parent complaints and instigated student protests.
On the day of the protest, several students wore leggings to school and brought signs voicing their concerns, said Juliet Bond, parent of a student at Haven.
In an effort to enforce the dress code more consistently, students had been given additional guidelines recently, and teachers began to “crack down” on students in violation of the code, Bond said. The dress code in place outlines a number of clothing items students cannot wear and puts restrictions on other items, including leggings. Bond said her daughter was told she could not wear leggings or yoga pants, and if she violated the code multiple times, it could result in “severe” punishments.
Haven principal Kathy Roberson sent a letter home to parents last week regarding the controversy over the dress code after community members voiced concerns about the code’s so-called “leggings ban.” Parents said the ban lowered girls’ self-esteem and encouraged an unhealthy body image by forcing them to change their dress, adding that students were told this type of clothing was disruptive. Roberson wrote in the letter that students’ choice of clothing must not disrupt the learning environment in any way, noting that dress and appearance are important factors for maintaining a positive teaching climate.
She wrote the current dress code does not put a ban on “leggings, yoga pants or ‘skinny’ jeans,” but includes certain restrictions for students who choose to wear them, noting the policy had not recently been revised or changed in any way.
“It has been communicated to students that ‘if leggings are worn, a shirt, shorts, or skirt worn over them must be fingertip length,’” Roberson said in the letter.
Haven’s Principal Advisory Team, which includes Roberson, several teachers, administrators and parents, held an open meeting Tuesday to discuss possible solutions to the controversy. Teachers and parents attended to voice their concerns and contribute ideas to resolve the situation, which has garnered attention from national media outlets.
Bond said increased education about the issue would be a necessary addition to the school’s curricula in order to effectively engage students in conversations about healthy body image.
“I’d love to see us have some really carefully led discussion around the issues of body shaming for girls and what that means for girls and boys,” Bond said.
Bond said she volunteered to write a grant to increase these types of services for students at Haven. She said Roberson was open to suggestions at the meeting and had been handling the situation well. Although there were no “real conclusions” established, it was important to give parents and teachers the opportunity to talk about the issues surrounding the dress code and give suggestions to minimize the controversy, Bond said.
Evanston/Skokie School District 65 spokeswoman Melissa Burda and members of the advisory board did not respond to requests for comment.
Bond and her husband initially emailed Roberson on March 11 asking the school to review the current policies after their daughter voiced concerns about the new measures.
“We really hope that you will consider the impact of these policies and how they contribute to rape culture,” the Bonds wrote in the email to Roberson. “Girls should be able to feel safe and unashamed about what they wear.”
Earlier this month, the policy caused student protests and the creation of a petition. Bond said in response to the protests, Roberson spoke with students individually and engaged in conversations to discuss the issues.
“It seems like most of the parents are kind of proud of the kids for standing up for themselves and learning how to take up an issue they feel proud of,” Bond said.
According to the District 65 website, Roberson recently met with staff to ensure the dress code is communicated to students in a consistent manner and students are aware of the guidelines it sets. Homeroom teachers also went over the code with their classes.
The Board of Education will meet Tuesday to discuss whether the dress code should be reconsidered.