BAR HARBOR — Is it OK for a high school student to dress in a way that is sexually provocative?
That was a question underlying recent discussions about the dress code for students, particularly high school students, in the Mount Desert Island Regional School System.
The school system’s policy committee has been wrestling with whether the dress code should be eliminated as a formal policy and replaced by a set of “expectations” to be printed in the student handbook. The school system board approved that change Monday night.
No one disagreed that clothing with “offensive images or language — profanity, hate speech, pornography” is out of bounds.
But on Monday night, school board member Kate Chaplin asked MDI High Principal Matt Haney the question everyone had been tiptoeing around: “Have you ever run across a situation where a student is dressed so provocatively that they actually are posing a distraction in the classroom?”
“Probably, yes,” Haney replied. “But there are certain parameters. And [the guidelines] we would use get pretty specific on what body parts have to be covered.
“I’ve never seen that violated. But I will say that [the way someone is dressed] is the problem of the other person. I don’t think we are in the business of deciding how people should express themselves because it makes someone else uncomfortable.
“I think what we may be talking about here is revealing clothing, and I think we have to be careful with that,” Haney said. “We do a good job at this school of letting people be who they are. There are lots of ways that students are able to distinguish themselves as individuals.
“So, to say, ‘You’re OK and you’re OK, but I can see your belly button, so you have to go,’ I’m not comfortable with that.”
If there is no formal policy on student dress, but rather a set of expectations printed in a handbook, how can those expectations be enforced, board member Heidi Lawson asked.
“That really doesn’t make a whole lot of difference,” Haney said. “There are a lot of things that aren’t policy that we have all sorts of leeway to act on.”