School dress code center of debate

Students from Naugatuck High School walk down Rubber Avenue after leaving school Thursday afternoon in Naugatuck. The school board's policy committee is looking into the district’s dress code policy. -RA ARCHIVE


NAUGATUCK — Deborah Olivares, a 15-year-old junior at Naugatuck High School, was wearing leggings under a long, flowing shirt one day last month when she was sent to the school’s office for violating the dress code. She waited while her father came to school bringing jeans for her to change into.

“It shouldn’t be so strict,” Olivares said. “If your parents let you walk out of the house wearing it, you should be allowed to wear it in school. They should also worry more about our own school grades.”

Since Jan Saam took over last year as principal, teachers and administrators have been cracking down on the dress code. Some students and parents have welcomed the change, while others think it has gone too far.

Now a group of parents is organizing a showdown for Thursday’s meeting of the Board of Education at the Central Avenue Preschool, 28 Central Ave. They are not pushing for a more lax dress code but a stricter one, modeled after Waterbury’s code, which requires collared shirts and prohibits blue jeans at every city school.

Many students agree with the idea.

“It would be a lot easier than to have to think in the morning about how I wonder if the teacher will say anything about my clothes,” Olivares said.

Saam said she began working on a new dress code after she was anonymously sent a photo that ran in the Republican-American of her talking to students on the first day of school last year. Some of the students wore revealing clothing, and the sender complained Saam was letting them make the school look bad.

Saam said she had also heard complaints at community functions about students walking down busy Rubber Avenue at the end of the day in short skirts or pants pulled low to reveal underwear. The students were giving off the impression they were not well behaved, Saam said.

“I thought, you know, that’s really not the perception we want of the high school,” Saam said. “That’s not the case. They’re great kids.”

Saam said she met with faculty and the student council to tweak the dress code, and students asked for more enforcement because they were uncomfortable with what some of their peers were wearing. This year, skirts and shorts are not allowed if they end more than three inches above the knee. Students are not allowed to wear clothing with any rips in it, including the trendy pre-torn jeans that do not show skin. Yoga pants are also prohibited.

The main change, however, is the level of enforcement. As many as 20 students a day were sent to the office at the beginning of the year for dress code violations, Saam said. Now she estimates they see about five students a day, or some days none at all.

Students whose parents cannot come with a change of clothes are offered an article of clothing to change into. If they refuse, they must spend the day in in-school suspension.

“When you look down the halls now, it’s so much nicer,” Saam said. “Students look good. … I truly believe that when you dress a certain way, you act a certain way.”

Parents argue some students are punished for having tiny rips in their clothes while others wearing miniskirts make it through the day. They have created an event on Facebook called “Parents against New Dress Code at Naugatuck High School,” encouraging others to come to Thursday’s meeting and support a khaki-and-polo requirement, just to end the complaints.

Dianne Marquis, whose daughter is a junior, wants students to come wearing clothes they were punished for that they think are appropriate. Marquis started the Facebook group after her daughter, a junior, was sent to the office for wearing yoga pants that looked similar to boot-cut jeans.

Stores mostly sell shorter skirts and jeans with minuscule tears in them, said Marquis, who went to an Under Armour outlet store and paid $30 for a pair of gym shorts because she could find no others long enough to satisfy the school’s requirements. Marquis wants a dress code similar to Waterbury’s, and for the school to sell students gym uniforms.

“As long as you walk into school with a polo shirt or a collared shirt, nothing’s hanging out,” Marquis said.

The high school’s dress code is based on student dress rules in the district-wide policy manual, but each school can add to those rules for their own dress codes. The school board’s policy committee is working to standardize dress codes across all schools but has not discussed uniforms, said Scott Slauson, committee chairman.

“That’s not to say there wouldn’t be any discussions,” Slauson said.

Although public comment is always a part of school board meetings, Slauson said he did not want to debate parents at Thursday’s meeting. Instead, the policy committee wants to set up separate dress code forums for students, parents and school employees, Slauson said.

Sophomore Blake Hess, 15, had a run-in with the dress code when he participated in a trend last year of wearing pajamas to school, he said. He laughs about his pajama day now and supports the idea of stricter dress code.

“I wouldn’t mind khakis and a collared shirt,” Hess said. “Everyone looks good in khakis.”

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