When Jennifer Roper's mom took her shopping last week, she found a dress that she loved. It looked great on her. She really wanted it. But they didn't buy it -- it was too short to wear to school.
"I have to be really careful when I'm shopping," Jennifer says. "Some things look short on me even when they're really not."
At Westside High School, where Jennifer, 17, is a junior -- and at most other area high schools -- the hem of your skirt can be no shorter than the tips of your fingers when you hold your hands straight by your sides, or approximately three inches above the knee. So a skirt that might be appropriate on a petite girl would get someone like Jennifer sent home.
"It's horrible," laments Jennifer's friend Mesia Garret, a 16-year-old Westside junior. "If you're going to school to learn, why does it matter what you wear?"
According to the Richmond County Board of Education's policy on dress codes, miniskirts are "disruptive and not allowed" -- in other words, guys would rather spend class time staring at the long, lanky legs of their classmates than the chemistry equations on the board. More modest clothes aren't as distracting, officials reason.
Long skirts aren't immune to the ruler -- Mesia said she was sent home once for wearing a long skirt with a slit in the side that school officials said was too high.
Other contraband clothing includes hats and sunglasses, fraternity or sorority insignias, clothes that advertise or promote alcohol, tobacco or drugs, and clothing with "suggestive, vulgar or obscene pictures and/or language."
And if you go to school in Columbia County, you'd better make sure your jeans aren't riding down around your hips, and that both straps on your overalls are fastened. No tank tops or spaghetti straps -- clothing "must cover both shoulders," states the county dress code.
"They're sort of too strict," says Noura Gordon, 16, an Evans High School junior. "The thing about the shoulders is so 50s. The clothes aren't seductive or anything, they're just not open to new styles."
But there's a reason for the shoulders rule, says Evans principal Sandra Driscoll.
"I think one of the major things we looked at when we developed the dress code was to make them -- I guess I can say decent -- making sure appropriate things were covered, you know? We didn't want to have any distractions in the classroom . . . we wanted to make sure underwear was covered. So there are no low-cut dresses, short skirts, no spaghetti straps," she said. "The main thing is that we don't want to disrupt instruction and have any clothing that will be distracting."
Columbia County has revised one rule that received a lot of complaints last year. Students were not allowed to wear backless shoes, like mules or slides -- it was a safety consideration, Dr. Driscoll said.
It was more of a concern in middle school, where pranksters would step on the back of the shoe and make a kid fall down, Dr. Driscoll said. It was no problem in high schools, so while the shoes are still prohibited in middle schools, high school students are free to wear them.
Emily Sollie covers teen issues and can be reached at (706) 823-3340.
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