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School dress code assembly causes confusion

Published: Thursday, April 11, 2013 at 8:44 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, April 11, 2013 at 8:44 a.m.

While the intent of a recent Kenilworth Junior High School dress code assembly may have been to simply remind students of rules already in place, the message that the female student body left with was one of confusion and anger.

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Kenilworth eighth-grader Lexie Castagnola, 14, is wearing leggings with a skirt over the top — the style the school said is appropriate. Students who are seen wearing leggings without a dress, skirt, shorts or long shirt over the top of them will be asked to change into spare athletic clothing the school has on hand.

John O'Hara/For the Argus-Courier

The controversy stems from a meeting Kenilworth Vice Principal Kathy Olmsted called with Kenilworth's female students last Thursday. The goal was to address what Kenilworth Principal Emily Dunnagan called a growing issue with some girls' revealing attire in the warmer school months, but many girls and their parents apparently left with the impression that certain clothing items, like skinny jeans and leggings, would be banned.

“Because of how the situation was handled, our original message was lost and kids got confused, leading to a lot of the problem,” Dunnagan said Tuesday.

“Some of our female students have been wearing leggings that are too shear and we're seeing their underwear,” said Dunnagan. “We have the same rule for boys and girls — no underwear is allowed to show. Because it was a problem we were having with our female students, and because we wanted them to feel comfortable, we took the time to speak to them privately about it.”

Dunnagan, who was not at the assembly that took place during a 15-minute reading period, said that when Olmsted let the girls know they would not be allowed to wear leggings without a dress, skirt or long tunic over the top of them, girls began questioning the rules.

“During the conversation, other items like skinny jeans and yoga pants were brought up,” said Dunnagan. “She (Olmsted) said something to the effect of telling the girls that one of the reasons they need to dress this way is because boys have raging hormones, which was not appropriate.”

Following the confusion, Olmsted issued an apology to all the female members of the student body Friday for her handling of the meeting.

Dunnagan said the school has not, in fact, banned skinny jeans, yoga pants, or even leggings for that matter. Instead, they simply require the girls to wear a dress, skirt, shorts or a long shirt over the top of the leggings. “We want our students to keep the essential areas covered at school,” she added.

Dave Rose, director of student services at Petaluma City Schools District, said that the dress code, which is universal for all schools in the district, is designed to keep students focused on learning. “While we want to take into account personal expression, we don't want any disruptions or distractions,” said Rose.

Dunnagan pointed out that seeing underwear can be a distraction for anyone.

While some parents spoke out against the way the issue was handled, many parents — after learning the intent of the dress code reminder — were supportive of the message. Debbie McCulloch, whose 14-year-old daughter Mariah is an eighth grader at Kenilworth, said that when she thought that skinny jeans and yoga pants were banned, she was not happy. “But knowing that they just want the girls to be dressed appropriately makes me more okay with it,” she said. “I feel like, especially at the junior high level, all the kids need a little reminder on what's appropriate.”

Another parent, Kory McGuire, whose daughter also attends Kenilworth, said that she fully supports the school's right to mandate how its students dress. “I support them deciding what they think is appropriate for that school,” McGuire said.

(Contact Janelle Wetzstein at janelle.wetzstein@arguscourier.com)

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