BAR HARBOR — The dress code for students at Mount Desert Island High School will no longer be a formal policy but a set of guidelines or expectations, if the school system board goes along with Superintendent Marc Gousse’s recommendation.
Administrators and school board members at the Jan. 23 meeting of the board’s policy committee endorsed the change.
The new apparel guidelines would be printed in the high school’s student handbook and would be enforced, if necessary, by school administrators. The guidelines, which were developed by Dean of Students Ian Braun and Principal Matt Haney, are generally less specific and restrictive than the current policy, which prohibits “clothing that is revealing (e.g. tops that reveal the midriff or that are low cut; excessively short skirts; clothing that exposes underwear or private body parts).”
Whether the dress code is a policy or a set of guidelines, Haney said, “We’ve got to change the language. Traditional dress codes are incredibly biased against young women.”
School board member Jessica Stewart said, “I think if we were to start enforcing something like this [policy], we would encounter serious and legitimate pushback.”
The existing policy on student dress prohibits “clothing that contains messages or graphics that are obscene, vulgar or sexual …”
Among the goals of the proposed new guidelines are:
“Prevent students from wearing clothing with offensive images or language (e.g. profanity, hate speech, pornography).”
Another goal of the proposed guidelines is, “Treat all students fairly regardless of gender/gender identification, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, body type/size, religion and personal style.”
Gousse said that eliminating the dress code as a formal policy gives administrators more flexibility in establishing and enforcing expectations. He noted that there are many aspects of the operation and management of schools that are not governed by board policies.
“So, I don’t know why we would do it for dress and not for other areas,” he said.
The issue of student dress, specifically at the high school, was initially raised by board member Teresa King-LeClair.
“The role of educators is to assist these young adults … to grow up and go out into the world,” she said at the policy committee meeting. “Part of that is to dress well. I’m not saying shirts, ties, pleated skirts and saddle shoes, but to have the expectation that you dress a certain way …”
King-LeClair said some people who have visited the high school have asked her if the school has a dress code, “because there are certain people who are dressing in an inappropriate way.”
She said that if the school doesn’t enforce its dress code, whether it a policy or a set of expectations, “How are we teaching our students the proper way to go out into society and dress in a manner that shows them as upstanding, contributing people?”
But Stewart said, “I think students can figure out what’s appropriate and what to wear when.”
Elementary school dress
The handbook for students in all the elementary schools in the district includes a section on student attire that is similar but not identical to what is being proposed for the high school. Conners Emerson Principal Barb Neilly said it seems to be effective and well understood by students and parents.
The consensus of the policy committee was that the wording in the K-8 student handbook regarding appropriate dress probably does not need to be changed.