Students complain about new dress code at middle school, but principal says it focuses kids on academics

by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Ellie Schnorr, who just completed eighth-grade at Neil Armstrong Middle School in Forest Grove, wears a T-shirt similar to the one students who ran afoul of the schools dress code policy were asked to wear in 2012-13.The hallways at Neil Armstrong Middle School are quiet this week, but a month ago, they were buzzing with activity.

As the bell rang between classes during one spring afternoon, Principal Brandon Hundley stood outside the main office, monitoring the students as they hurried to their next class.

As a female student walked by, she placed herself at the other side of the crowd, away from Hundley’s gaze. But the sharp-eyed principal saw her and pulled her aside — not for her behavior, but for her gray sweatshirt with large letters advertising Victoria’s Secret Pink clothing brand on the back.

The 2012-13 school year, which wrapped up Monday, was the first year of NAMS’ new dress code, with 840 students expected to meet guidelines for what the middle school deemed acceptable attire.

It was not the first attempt by middle school officials to regulate kids’ wardrobes. In 2010, leggings were banned. The next year, it was yoga pants and pants with excessive holes. This school year, clothing with large graphics and logos were also banned, along with sweatpants and shorts or skirts that sit higher than one inch above the knee.

As a result, the typical outfit for a NAMS student this year was solid-colored or patterned shirts and pants that met the school’s clothing guidelines.

When the dress code was violated, students were given a navy blue “Titan Pride” T-shirt to change into. Their clothing remained in the office until the end of the day.

Although some students were opposed to the change, the administration redesigned their dress code with the intent of eliminating distractions and improving academic rigor.

Hundley explained middle school students feel pressured to be fashionable and use their clothing as a way to gain popularity. Hundley wanted to bring the school day focus back on education.

“Kids have a lot of other ways to express individuality,” said Hundley. “We want students to show who they are internally.”

Although Ruby Christoph, who just completed her eighth-grade year, agrees the intentions of the dress code were in the best interest of students, she feels not much changed when it came to fitting in or wearing popular clothing brands.

“Whatever you wear you can still buy the name brand,” and meet the dress code standards, said Christoph. “The ‘What you wear isn’t who you are’ doesn’t work. You are judged on what you wear.”

Christoph and classmate Ellie Schnorr said that at the beginning of the school year, the dress code expectations were unclear, especially after the first few weeks when the rules — which originally required solid-colored shirts — changed. Students were then notified they were allowed to wear patterned shirts.

Also, the students discovered small logos and graphics (like a discreet Nike swoosh) were allowed. Christoph and Schnorr said the changes to the code created confusion and, among some of their fellow students, a lack of respect for the new policy.

Hundley disagrees.

He believes students respected the dress code and said only about two dozen violated the code requirements on a daily basis.      

Because some students struggled with the clothing guidelines for a variety of reasons (including the cost of new clothes) Hundley said staff members didn’t want the dress code to become a central focus of the school day.

When students violated the code, Hundley explained, staff members tried to talk to the students about it instead of simply disciplining them.

Although teachers and students tried to establish a common ground in regard to the dress code, Schnorr and Christoph think the old guidelines were fine.

Schnorr feels a big push behind the dress code was part of an effort to treat school like a career — a worthy goal but, perhaps, an unrealistic one.

“Middle schoolers are going to be middle schoolers no matter what they wear,” said Schnorr.

Both students said they hope the dress code will be revoked for next school year.

Hundley said there may be slight modifications to the policy, but the dress code isn’t going anywhere.    

He conceded that making school more of a professional setting was part of the motivation of implementing the dress code. “I think that it’s important for kids to leave here prepared for high school and college,” he said.

But, he said, the primary motive was to keep kids focused on the classroom activities, particularly a newly implemented Science Technology Engineering Mathematics program, also known as STEM, which ties in with a focus on job opportunities outside of the public school system.

If so, it may have worked. Hundley said that during the school year that just wrapped up, referrals related to behavioral issues dropped by more than 40 percent.

He sees the dress code as another innovative step into the future of middle school education. “I hope everyone recognizes this is a very positive plan for students,” said Hundley.

Contract Publishing

Go to top