Erin Edwards and Alex Gardner
June 18, 2019
“Definitely beneficial because there’s more freedom of expression,” said one.
“I don’t really think it will change anything,” said another.
“I prefer it a lot more,” said a third.
And so begins the debate that will dominate the minds of students and teachers alike for months to come. On May 9th, the Howard County Board of Education released a revised policy for the Students Dress Code, which will take effect this July.
According to Community Superintendent Ms. Marcia Leonard, the revisions came as a result of the dress code policy being simply out of date. “All Board of Education policies are reviewed on a rotating cycle, and this was the year for review of the Dress Code policy. [Performance Equity and Community Response Director] Mr. McCoy and I worked collaboratively with the policy review committee, comprised of students, teachers, administrators, parents and community members to make the recommendation for the policy revisions.”
The policy includes a few controversial changes. As far as dress is concerned, the policy did away with the restrictions on female attire, including pant length and width of straps, as well as removing the restriction on hats and hoods. However, the policy states that the definition for “attire” now includes wearable technology, such as earbuds. While the majority of staff and students at Atholton agree with the dress element of the policy regarding shirts and pants, the community seems split about electronics, especially in classrooms.
“In theory, I understand the concept, right?” said Atholton English teacher Mr. Stuppy. “The issue I have with it is that it’s largely distracting. If they remain in during class, there’s no way for me as a teacher to really guarantee what the student is doing. If they’re listening to what I’m saying or if they’re listening to Spotify or if they’re, heaven forbid, listening to an audio book of the text that they’re being assessed on in the quiz. So the issue for me with wearable technology is that it puts us in this murky situation of not knowing whether our students are allowing themselves to pay attention. As a teacher, as a classroom manager, you have to be aware of the people in your room and what they’re doing.”
Social Studies teacher Mr. Mitchell agreed with Stuppy, saying, “The problem with the earbuds to me is that I can’t understand how you can have the earbuds in and still listen to our teachers. I think there’s certainly a time for it. There are lots of times in my class where we do activities that are multimedia, taking a look at video clips, or walking around the room, or we’re even doing work at their table. And if they want to have their music in and they’re working on their budget project, then I don’t have a problem with that. I guess [the question] always is: how does it interfere with the learning?”
While the majority of teachers agree that earbuds could prove to be more of a nuisance than a benefit, the students had a different outlook on the new definition of “attire.”
“I think that the headphones thing is more of a bother when teachers yell at students rather than just letting students have them in,” said junior Shelby Lechner. In a similar vein, the values cited in the policy include the idea that “reasons for conflict and inconsistent identification of possible infractions should be minimized whenever possible.”
Junior Olivia Lampf added on, saying, “I don’t think anyone is gonna go out of their way to bring more technology than they already do.”
The revisions to Policy 9210 state that electronic devices to be worn at school, as long as they are not “disruptive to the environment.” Many agree that “disruptive” is a subjective term, and may be interpreted differently by administration, teachers, and students.
“That’s one of the things that we as an administrative team will meet this summer to discuss,” said Atholton Principal Mr. Motley. “What is disruptive? If you’ve got your earbuds in and others can hear the music playing, than I think that would be disruptive. Or if you’ve got your beats on and teachers are talking to you and you’re not responding, that causes an issue. So there are certain situations that we’ll have to have a conversation with as a school. About what’s acceptable, what’s not acceptable.”
The revisions to the new dress code came in part due to issues in the past with teacher-student conflict over the dress code policy. According to the Action Proposal for Policy 9210 Student Dress Code, the revised policy should ease students’ fear of “unnecessary discipline or body shaming” and intends to minimize conflict between students and staff regarding dress code whenever possible.
“I feel like it will help with teacher and student interactions a lot,” said Lechner. “Everytime someone gets dress coded at this school, they get pretty upset about it and they are like, ‘I don’t understand why I got dress coded when this is not even inappropriate.’”
Junior Amber Stewart agreed with Lechner, saying, “I prefer it a lot more, especially if they are allowing off the shoulder shirts. I understand not allowing too much boob to show and too much stomach but I mean, when it comes to comfort, sometimes it gets hot. The temperature is super inconsistent around the school so to get dress coded for a bra strap is ridiculous. If they are getting rid of that, I think it is pretty cool.”
Lampf added, “Whenever you talk to someone and bring up a teacher, they are like, ‘Ah, they are the one who always yells at me for taking out my headphones,’ or something like that. So it’s just unnecessary.”
Mr. Stuppy said, “I’m hoping for, from a clothing standpoint, a positive benefit to my students that they can feel comfortable and confident in who they are and what they’re wearing, which means they’re going to be a little bit more comfortable and confident in the lessons that we’re doing.”
It has been largely felt that the dress code policies regarding clothing requirements have been gendered and targeted towards female students. As a result, it came as a relief to many students that they would no longer need to worry about editing their wardrobe to meet the dress code requirements. “When I go shopping, I have to choose certain things depending on school so I have to figure out what to spend my money on because I cannot have clothes for outside of school and then clothes for school, I feel like they should be the same thing,” continued Stewart. “It will allow me to buy things that I actually like and actually feel comfortable wearing.”
Ms. Veslany, assistant principal at Atholton, was a vocal supporter of the former dress code. “I’m going to have a hard time with it. I just am. This is a school. This is my place of business,” she said. “My concern is will we ever be able to go back? And then what kind of climate and atmosphere is it going to change here?”
Needless to say, it will be interesting to see how the revised dress code will play out. “I think knowing that it’s something new, that both parties be just a little understanding and tolerable as we try to find the happy medium for everyone,” said Mr. Motley. “There has to be some medium in between, and so as we figure that out next year, we ask that the teachers be understanding and patient, and we ask that students be understanding and patient as well.”