Margaret SchedlerWednesday, September 29, 2021
Tom Bendel, Altamont’s Interim Head of School, has instituted a new dress code. Bendel’s previous experience with dress codes is that they are “disproportionately targeted toward women and girls, and put their bodies, as well as those of black and brown students of either sex, under too much scrutiny.” To address this, Bendel consulted the Model Student Dress Code, created by the Oregon chapter of the National Organization for Women or NOW.
NOW’s model dress code outlines three sections: must wear, may wear, and cannot wear. Under each section are articles of clothing that fit that category. Clothing like pajamas, sweatshirts, spaghetti straps, and religious headwear are all listed as ‘may wear.’ Clothing depicting violent images, hate speech, or pornography are under ‘cannot wear.’ Under the section ‘must wear,’ there are three simple words: shirt, bottom, shoes.
For Altamont’s new dress code, the only strict limitations are “certain body parts must be covered for all students at all times.” These certain body parts include “genitals, buttocks, breasts, and nipples.” Under the ‘must wear’ category: shirt, pants (this can include shorts, skirts, and jeans), and shoes. As far as disciplinary measures go, Altamont students in violation of the dress code may be pulled from class and other school spaces. Students have an option to change, or parents can be called to supply clothing that abides by the dress code.
NOW claims that some schools require the use of “kneeling or bending over to check attire.” According to NOW, when a dress code violation is suspected, “asking students to account for their attire in the classroom” or “directing students to correct a dress code violation during instructional time” can shame the student and more pointedly, cause distractions.
Two Altamont students told The Acta Diurna what they have experienced while being dress-coded in the past.
Sophomore Merritt Fulmer described a situation when she was in sixth grade. She recalled in a written statement “I was wearing orange leggings, a black sweater and I had a sweatshirt on too. A teacher called me out in front of everyone. They said something along the lines of ‘Merritt, those pants are unacceptable! I thought you had no pants on and just got a bad spray tan!’ I got very embarrassed. The teacher made me go get my gym shorts and wear them on top of my leggings for the rest of the day.” She added “It was so embarrassing to have to walk around like that all day. I wasn’t expecting to be called out in front of everyone like that. I would have been more understanding if they pulled me aside alone to talk about it, even though there was never anything in the dress code about legging[s] being a certain color.”
One student wrote anonymously “[In] sixth grade and onwards I felt very objectified by the attention I received. The worst of it was being stopped in the halls and [an adult] ‘fingertip checking’ the length of my skirt or shorts. I was biologically impaired compared to other girls because my arms were longer. I was immediately torn down by this specific instance of public humiliation.” She continued “What the teachers and administration subjected the female gender to created a culture of sexualization, objectification and disrespect within the Altamont community. This then led to the male population excusing their behavior towards girls because they were able to blame their own comments and actions on the rules of the institution. Numerous times I was asked by boys of my age, ‘Is that dress code?’ ‘I can see your bra strap.’ ‘Watch out for the deans,’ etc. Looking back now, all of that was extremely inappropriate. Especially towards a 12-year-old girl.”
Editions of Altamont’s Student Handbooks, found in Altamont’s new archive, contain the school’s old dress codes. Some of the restrictions in the 1994-1995 Student Handbook include prohibitions against “half shirts” and tennis skirts.
In the 2003-2004 Student Handbook, many of the same rules remain with the addition of spaghetti straps added to the unacceptable list. Boys are still not permitted to wear their hair longer than their collar or wear earrings. That rule seems to disappear the next year.
The 2015-2016 Student Handbook outlines specific measurements for skirts: “no higher than three inches above the knee (the length of a credit card),” and shorts “should reach below the student’s fingertips. [Altamont’s] Deans also reserve the right to determine the appropriateness of clothing," which left much unspecified.
NOW challenges that right by specifying “School administrators and teachers must enforce the district dress code consistently, once it is adopted. School administration and staff should not have discretion to vary the requirements in ways that lead to discriminatory enforcement.”
Bendel outlines in the new Altamont dress code “No student should be affected by dress code enforcement because of racial identity, sex assigned at birth, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, ethnicity, cultural or religious identity, household income, body size/type, or body maturity. School staff shall not enforce the school’s dress code more strictly against transgender and gender nonconforming students than other students.”
The student who wished to remain anonymous ended her statement to The Acta Diurna with “The relaxation of the dress code has been one of the best decisions Altamont has made. The classroom has felt more comfortable, because now I can worry less about the strap of my bra protruding out from under my shirt and more about the actual lesson being taught.”
Will Altamont lose its prestige by relaxing its dress code? Does a school dress code determine the pride of its students? What do you think?
To share your thoughts or feedback on this or anything you've seen in The Acta Diurna, to suggest story ideas, or to become a contributor, email MediaJournalism@AltamontSchool.org and copy Managing Editor Margaret Schedler at SchedlerM23@AltamontSchool.org.