Maryville High School students can cross extra-long shirts off their back-to-school shopping lists.
The Board of Education on Monday stripped language from a new dress code policy that would have required shirts worn with leggings to fully cover buttocks at the high school.
However, the board kept a rule against wearing shirts that extend below the bottom of shorts or skirts worn with them, giving the appearance that nothing is underneath.
The draft leggings rule would have required students in grades 10-12 to have tops that completely covered the buttocks, while students in grades four through nine could wear shirts that cover only half.
Board Chair Bethany Pope, whose daughter will be entering ninth grade, said she didn’t like having two separate standards. “I don’t see the difference in requiring a shirt mid-butt or below butt,” she said.
Board member Candy Morgan also objected to having a more restrictive policy for students as they enter the high school in 10th grade. “You can go to any college campus and that’s what kids are wearing,” she said of leggings with mid-length shirts.
Board member Chad Hampton said that’s what he sees around the community, too, but he was concerned about high school teachers’ responses to a survey on the proposed dress code.
While only about a third of intermediate school teachers surveyed were in favor of the longer shirt policy with leggings, that rose to about two-thirds of the high school teachers, according to schools Director Mike Winstead. However, only 40 of 100 high school teachers responded to the most recent survey.
Parents were split about evenly on the issue.
“We didn’t have any school where the majority of parents favored covering the whole butt,” Winstead said, but at the high school it reached 48%.
The principal of Maryville Junior High, Lisa McGinley, said they had tried requiring longer, tunic-style shirts for the eighth and ninth graders but “that is just not a style for the mid-adolescent.”
Mid-length T-shirts have not been a distraction, she said. “What we want is that back and midriff covered.”
High school Principal Greg Roach said shirt length is relative to what the student is doing, and bending or reaching can cause a mid-length shirt to expose more and be a distraction.
Morgan made the motion to strike the longer shirt-length requirement for the high school, and board member Julie Elder seconded it.
Member Nick Black was the only vote against the amendment and the only no vote on passing the full policy, saying he felt they were ignoring the survey results. “I stand with the teachers,” he said in voting against the amendment.
Later in the meeting when the board unanimously approved a 4% raise for staff next year, Morgan said, “That’s standing with the teachers.”
In another change from the dress code the board passed on first reading in April, elementary schools are exempt from the policy. They will develop their own guidelines.
The new policy also gives school administrators discretion in enforcing the guidelines with fourth and fifth graders.
If a student’s dress disrupts learning, interferes with the operation of the school or violates the guidelines, the principal’s response can include requiring a wardrobe change, notifying parents or suspending the student.
Under the dress code for grades four through 12, pants must be worn at the waist, with no tears, rips or holes above mid-thigh.
“Leggings or other compression-style pants” must be opaque and properly fitted, with a top that covers “at least to the midpoint of the buttocks and with comparable coverage in the front.”
Shorts must have a length “at least comparable to popular athletic shorts (i.e. approximately 3 inch inseam),” and can’t be worn with the waistband rolled down or hemline rolled up.
Skirts and dresses can’t be shorter than mid-thigh, and shirts can’t extend below the bottom hem of skirts or shorts.
Winstead said the district had received a lot of comments about shirts worn longer than the shorts or skirt below them, and Morgan noted that was a distraction she noticed during a recent high school event.
The new policy also clarifies that the only visible piercing jewelry that may be worn at school is earrings and nose studs. An earlier draft referred to piercings and not the jewelry.
Winstead noted during the policy discussion that the board reviews its dress code about every other year.