Pasco schools consider ban on shirts that show belly buttons

Board member Cynthia Armstrong said students are pushing boundaries, and the district must push back.
Pasco County School Board member Cynthia Armstrong says the school district needs to clarify the student dress code on shirt length before violations get out of hand.
Pasco County School Board member Cynthia Armstrong says the school district needs to clarify the student dress code on shirt length before violations get out of hand. [ ANGELICA EDWARDS | Times ]
Published May 15

Pasco County students soon could be required to cover up a bit more skin.

School Board members are considering a dress code revision that would mandate shirts extend to the waist. That would be in addition to existing rules stating that shirts have straps, be opaque when covering the chest, and have fabric in the front, back and sides.

The idea did not come from students, the district code of conduct committee or the superintendent’s office. And board members said they had received few calls or emails complaining about this aspect of student attire.

But board member Cynthia Armstrong, who proposed the wording change, said the district needed to get a handle on what could become a problem if nothing is done. She said she had observed some girls in schools wearing sports bras as tops.

“They should be dressing for school somewhat like they would dress for a job,” Armstrong said, expressing dismay that the dress code did not address how long a shirt must be. “They’re not going to the beach. They’re not out playing with their friends.”

She viewed her proposal, which comes up for a public hearing at 6 p.m. Tuesday, as a simple clarification.

Chairperson Megan Harding shared that view, suggesting the dress code as currently written creates the opportunity for an “anything goes” environment.

“We need to offer a little bit more guidance to ensure that (students) are following the dress code,” Harding said.

She acknowledged that the code already forbids as inappropriate any clothing that “exposes underwear, body parts and/or skin in an indecent or vulgar manner.” But that guidance can mean different things to different people, she noted, while adding language about shirts reaching the waist would leave no question.

Board member Alison Crumbley said she did not consider a sports bra to be an adequate shirt for school. But she suggested the district’s current dress code did not seem to permit that, as it’s underwear and shouldn’t be exposed.

“There’s probably not that many violations anyway,” Crumbley added, leaving open the possibility of supporting the extra wording.

Board member Colleen Beaudoin, who has pushed to eliminate sexism in the dress code, said she believed the change could be implemented fairly for boys and girls. But she questioned whether it would be worth the effort.

Beaudoin recalled when, as a classroom teacher, she had to enforce a rule requiring all shoes to have back straps.

“It was very hard to monitor. I’d lose instructional time,” she said. “Whether or not a kid had backs on their shoes did not impact their learning.”

She suggested that while it would be nice if students dressed more professionally, that’s a parental responsibility and choice.

“I’d like to hear from more people with their thoughts on it,” Beaudoin said. “I hope we do.”

Parents and students did not come forward in 2021 when the board took steps to make the dress code more gender-neutral. They did protest in 2016, though, after one high school began strictly implementing dress code rules, such as banning oversized logos on shirts.

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The board is not scheduled to vote at the public hearing. A final decision would come in June.

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