Higley Unified School District now has a new student dress policy that some may see as allowing more risqué attire then the previous one.
The Governing Board last week approved the updated policy 3-2, which included removing the ban on exposing body parts such a chest, midriff and genital area and replacing it with a prohibition against showing undergarments and undergarment areas. Six people spoke out against the proposed change at the Sept. 20 meeting.
“Reject the current proposal and either enforce the current dress code we have or have a dress code that reflects more of the concerns of the parents in the district,” said Ira Latham, whose four children attend district campuses.
“As a parent I expect the district to be able to enforce polices that help my children be able to go to class…as well as limit the needless distractions in class.
“This policy does not do that. I also think that it brings a lot of unnecessary pressure on teachers having to deal with the vagueness of this policy. Under the proposed policy this would be appropriate in the classroom.”
And with that Latham pulled off his polo top, revealing a black sports bra underneath.
“Now if you ask me it’s inappropriate for a board meting,” he said. “If you have a dress code policy that allows this in a classroom it does not promote a safe classroom environment as well as limited the amount of distractions in the classroom. I can’t think of any place of work where I can walk in and be taken serious in something like this.
‘So let’s be adults for these students. Let’s put the right polices in place to help them have success in the future.”
His wife, Monica Latham, said that changing the current dress code in place did nothing to help with education.
“I have heard of teachers that turn their room into iceboxes because they do not want to be known as sexist or favoring or what not other students,” she said. “They make sure they turn them into iceboxes so the students cover themselves so they don’t have to deal with any of that.
“I really hope that you can reconsider because it’s not fair to the teachers, it’s not fair to the students. I know five families that took their kids out of school this last year because of things that have been passed and I would not surprise if more people pulled their kids out of school and money out of this district if this dress code gets approved.”
Linda Payne said she has nine grandchildren attending schools in Higley Unified.
“It’s gotten worse and worse and I think a lot of it is it’s not being enforced,” she said. “The dress code that we have right now needs to be enforced or become more modest.
“We are letting our kids’ education go bad. I’m really, really concerned with especially our young men having to watch this pornography in the school with students that are in the classroom with them. It’s why they don’t want to study a lot, they would rather watch that.”
Payne said HUSD instead should have a “really good dress code” and be a model for other schools to follow.
“Why don’t we become the best and have people wanting to come to Higley instead of people wanting to leave,” Payne continued. “We have a lot of people leaving the district because of the dress code, because of the education being taught.
“We need to get the modesty back in this school. It’s really, really suffering. I think that if you would start enforcing the dress code, make it more modest you would find a lot of students coming back and you will find a lot of people wanting to move here.”
Board member Michelle Anderson said that 10 school districts in the state have so far adopted the dress policy crafted by the Arizona School Risk Retention Trust, which creates the K–12 school district model policies rooted in state and federal law.
The districts include Dysart Unified, Kyrene and Queen Creek. HUSD tweaked the original Trust policy and has discussed the dress code two previous times.
Anderson noted that all 10 have midriff included in their policies. She then reviewed the dress policies of some of the neighboring districts such as Tempe Elementary where “their language says cover chest and torso and clothes to be not see-through.”
She added that Gilbert Public Schools hasn’t passed the policy but its dress regulations require students to cover all private parts and not wear see-through clothing.
She noted HUSD’s current dress policy was pretty open as there’s no language prohibiting piercings, tattoos and leggings.
Anderson, a teacher in another district, said she polled over 10 female students, including recent graduates, for their opinion on the district’s current dress policy. She added that she talked to conservative and non-conservative students.
“The students were pretty tough,” she said. “They were pretty strict on the expectations. I specifically asked the less-conservative females if they felt like having a dress code with our current policy – expectations covering the midriff, the chest, the buttocks – if it made them feel like their body was not OK. Unanimously they said no.”
“I’m not naive to think these females’ opinions speak for all females but it’s important to know that not all females feel a dress code like ours make them feel shameful or bad about their body.”
She concluded by saying that the nearby school districts and the top 100 schools in the country have modest dress policies in place.
Interim Superintendent Sherry Richards said she received informal input from administration on the proposed policy.
“Overall the feedback that I received was that they were OK with what was being proposed,” Richards said. “They said things like ‘well if we are going to let them wear hats, can we have specific training on what that means’ or hoodies or whatever.
“I think whatever is determined it’s our responsibility to make sure we all interpret things the same way.”
Board President Tiffany Shultz noted that the board deals with policy and that it was up to the administration to come up with how to regulate it.
“The amount of emails we got in support of a modest dress code should also be considered,” Board member Anna Van Hoek said “The majority was parents asking for a modest dress code and we definitely need to consider those voices as well.”
Board member Kristina Reese said she agreed but that she’s received emails where half supported the proposed policy and half did not.
She said that in the last couple of weeks, she visited different school campuses in the district and observed how the students dressed.
“I want to say that the majority of our kids are dressed appropriately,” Reese said. She said although she saw some exposed midriffs, which is prohibited in the current policy, that they were not offensive or over-revealing.
She added that she raised her children conservatively and that her oldest daughter opted for long skirts and didn’t wear pants until the seventh grade so she was pretty sensitive if she saw inappropriate clothing being worn.
“I think we’ve spent a lot of time on this,” Reese said. “We heard from the community from both sides. Trust our kids. Our kids make good choices.”
And, Reese pointed out that the policy if adopted is not permanent.
“If we have issues, if we are finding that we are really having to worry about this and having issues and have kids that are concerned and it makes them uncomfortable, we can change this policy at any time,” Reese said. “If we find that the new policy does not work well we can revisit it and we can change it.”
Board member Amanda Wade, Scultz and Reese voted to approve the new policy. Van Hoek and Anderson dissented.
The Board recognizes that each student’s mode of dress and grooming is a manifestation of personal style and individual preference. The Board will not interfere with the right of students and their parents to make decisions regarding their appearance except when their choices affect the educational program of the schools or the health and safety of others. The Board authorizes the Superintendent to develop and enforce school regulations prohibiting student dress or grooming practices that:
● Present a hazard to the health or safety of the student or to others in the school.
● Interferes with or disrupts the educational environment or educational objectives.
● Displays or suggests obscene language or symbols.
● Immodestly exposes the chest, abdomen, midriff, genital area, or buttocks.
● Creates an atmosphere of threat, intimidation, or undue pressure.
● Displays or advertises alcohol, drugs, tobacco, or any illegal or controlled substance or item.
Student attire may be regulated as necessary and appropriate to maintain order and decorum within the educational system and to avoid material and substantial interference with schoolwork or discipline.
A. Prohibited Attire Attire may be prohibited when it:
• Significantly interferes with the District’s ability to maintain order; such as disrupting schoolwork, school programs and activities, creates disorder, or prevents any student(s) from achieving educational objectives.
• Affects the health or safety of students, personnel or visitors.
• Conveys affiliation with a criminal street gang.
• Exposes the wearer’s undergarments, or undergarment areas. Clothing must cover all private body parts and /or undergarments and must not be see-through. Undergarment waistbands and/or straps that are incidentally visible under clothing are permitted; however, undergarments may not be worn as clothing.
• Contains or conveys obscene language, symbols or messages.
• Promotes or depicts the unlawful use of alcohol, tobacco, or drugs.
• Is inconsistent with or prohibited by the course, program, or activity.
B. Religious Attire
The District does not discriminate against students or parents/legal guardians on the basis of religious viewpoint or expression. Students may wear clothing, accessories and/or jewelry (“attire”) displaying religious messages or symbols in the same manner and to the same extent that other types of attire are permitted.
C. Tribal Attire at Graduation Ceremony
The District does not prohibit any student who is an enrolled member of a federally recognized Indian tribe from wearing traditional tribal regalia or objects of cultural significance (“tribal objects”) at the student’s graduation ceremony.