Halfway into the school year, most students have adjusted to teachers and subjects. But what about clothes?
Towns such as Stoughton, Canton and Randolph have definite dress codes, with skirts to the knee and shirts to the waist. Other school systems, such as Holbrook, do not have a formal policy.
The Stoughton High School manual states that students “are expected to dress in a manner that shows pride in themselves and their school. The primary responsibility for appropriate dress rests with the student and his/her parents or guardians. Undergarments must be covered, shoes must be worn, hats can’t be worn in class and waists can’t be exposed."
“I think that’s appropriate,” said Lisa Lee, a mother of a middle-school and high-school student. “Kids have to have some self-respect. They need to learn that at an early age at home.”
She added that this behavior needs to be continually reinforced at school all the way up through graduation.
“Peer pressure can be intense,” Lee said. “It’s good to have rules in place. Then the kids can focus on their studies. They will concentrate on their work and not on fitting in with the in crowd.”
In Holbrook, grandmother Elaine Fairfield said there is no uniform policy that she is aware of, but it had been discussed in the past.
"I’m all for that, though,” she said. “I watch my grandkids, who are in elementary school, a lot. I know they had discussed it a few years ago, but it went nowhere.”
She added that she had attended 12 years of parochial school and had to wear uniforms every day.
“We weren’t involved in any of that peer pressure,” she said. “...I saw back in the day, when I was raising my daughter, there was so much peer pressure to fit in - how you had to have a certain brand of jeans, a certain brand of sneakers.”
Fairfield said that every school should have a uniform policy.
“Then there would be no focus on the clothes,” she said.
“There would just be a focus on what is important – on the learning.”
Randolph interim Superintendent Thea Stovell said she believes the dress code there helps students in achieving their academic goals while preparing them for the world after graduation.
“Randolph has a dress code to teach students how to dress appropriately for school in preparation for the workforce,” she said. “I believe that bullying is eliminated by having clear expectations for behavior, re-teaching students who struggle with rules, and consequences for members of the school community who fail to keep others safe both physically and emotionally.”
Pat LaBelle, a recent Canton High School graduate who now attends the University of Massachusetts/Amherst, said he never saw any bullying at the school in regard to dress codes.
“I always felt as though school dress code got blown out of proportion as being an issue,” he said. “As far as I know, the only people who ever got ‘dress coded’ at high school were people who, and I emphasize the next word, really pushed the boundaries of what’s allowed in a school setting.”
LaBelle said he didn't think a school dress code matters on school performance or school pride.
“I think the argument that people shouldn’t wear things like tank tops or yoga pants because it’s distracting to others is a poor one,” he said. “But maybe I just have a ‘mind your own business’ mindset when it comes to what others wear to class.”
“It is our experience that students dress appropriately for school,” said Jennifer Fischer-Mueller, Ed.D., Canton superintendent of schools. “What's critically important is the way an administrator or teacher addresses a student if attire is questionable. Respect is the guiding principle for any and all discussions with students regarding their choice of attire, as with any issue.”
In the Canton school handbooks for all grades, from elementary through the high school, the policy is laid out this way: "Our goal as a school community is to ensure that all children reach their full potential academically, socially and emotionally. Although personal attire is at the discretion of each family, clothing that is worn to school must take appropriateness, weather, focus, and safety into consideration. Students should come to school dressed for the important work of education. For example, a top that resembles a bathing suit (spaghetti straps) is generally not considered appropriate for school. In addition, clothing with language or graphics that distract students from learning may be deemed inappropriate. Since we go outdoors for recess, students should be dressed for the weather. For safety, we strongly advise students not to wear backless shoes (any shoe that does not have laces or heel straps, which would secure the shoe to the foot such as flip-flops). Sneakers or other suitable footwear are required for physical education class. Hats or hoods must be removed upon entering the school building. If clothing is deemed inappropriate we will notify parents/guardians immediately. Suitable alternate clothing must be made available for the student (from home or the school) to remain in school."
The Commonwealth lets the individual school systems set their own policies.
“I don’t have totally formed opinions on this because the board does not get uniform data per se,” Katherine Craven Kryzanski, a member of the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, said regarding a dress code or school uniform policy.
Craven Kryzanski added that, as a graduate of Boston Latin School, she never had to adhere to a uniform policy or a dress code. However, there was peer pressure in the 1980s to wear certain styles and brands of clothing.
“We were expected to have no money and dress well,” she said. “Where was that supposed to come from? I babysat as much as I could, but I still would never have been able to keep up.”