Schools all over Tampa Bay enacted stricter dress codes this school year, creating a crazy quilt of rules that vary from school to school and leave many students sweltering in jeans and high-necked shirts as they try to stay within code.
At Tarpon High, one thing is clear to senior Sarah Aloia: Students' perspectives must be heard and considered. Officially. She created a Facebook page, "Reinstate the old Tarpon High dress code" to get the discussion going, and she has asked to be put on the agenda of a meeting of Tarpon's School Advisory Committee. Recently she talked with tb-two* about her concern that only 32 parents (and none of the nearly 2,000 students) had an official say.
What was the dress code like before it was modified?
It was really not that strict before. Cover your shoulders, don't have your breasts hanging out, wear shorts that go to your mid-thigh or your fingertips, don't have profane things on your shirt, and — for guys — don't have your pants hanging down under your butt.
What does the new dress code entail?
Now you can't have scoop necks or V-necks, nothing below your collarbone; if you wear a dress shirt, you can only have the top button undone. You can't have any type of image on your shirt — no hearts, no rainbows, no flowers. You can't have any words on your shirt. Basically you can't have anything on your shirt unless it has to do with the school. So if it says "Tarpon Springs High School," that's okay. But if it were to say "Florida State University," you can't wear that. With shorts, for everybody, they have to be to right (at) your knee. You can't wear basketball shorts. You can't wear leggings. Dresses have to be to the top of your knee, and they have to follow the shirt rule. You can wear patterns, but no images. If it were a single image of a flower in the middle, then you couldn't wear that. But if it had a floral pattern, you could wear that. You can't wear sweatpants anymore; no more scrub days! They didn't really take us into consideration, because we never got to vote.
They sent one of those recorded messages out sometime between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. on a weekday, and they talked about the possibility of the dress code. They said (parents) have two days to call in and say yes or no. Thirty-two parents called in.
And the students?
The students didn't get a vote. Only the parents got to put in their "input." From those 32 parents, 17 of them said no to the new dress code. They're not even calling it a vote; they're calling it an input. On the (school's) website it said that our "input" was brought to the School Advisory Council (a group of teachers, other staff, parents, student representatives and community volunteers) and that they voted, with 80 percent of those in attendance, for the dress code. It said the staff then voted with 91 percent in favor.
Why did Tarpon High believe it needed a new dress code?
Nobody enforced the old dress code. I know a girl who came out of dress code every day. Her shorts were too short and her shoulders were showing — her midriff was showing — and she did it every day because she knew she could get away with it. If they had enforced it, people would have followed it. Male teachers, for whatever reason, (felt) that they (couldn't) point out when a female student is out of dress code, which I believe is the biggest bunch of bull. As a teacher, it's part of your job to keep your students on the right path.
Why is this an important issue for you?
I'm not really trying to change it for me, personally. It's just unfair, especially because we're pretty known for having low-income kids. There's a lot of kids who can't afford a new wardrobe — especially the seniors, who only have one more year. Everyone's like, "Oh just get a $10 shirt at Walmart." Oh, okay, but you have to go buy five $10 shirts, and that's $50 right there.
Why did you start the Facebook page?
Everyone was complaining, but no one was doing anything about it. I made the page, and we currently have 429 likes from students, parents, graduates and even people who live in different states. It's crazy.
I'm going in to talk to the school committee. (She's working with the administration to settle on a date.)
What are you planning to say to the SAC?
That I feel it's unfair, because we didn't get a say in it. How are they going to be the ones to justify what we can and can't wear when they don't know where we're coming from, they don't know what our families are going through? I'm going to point out everything.