When Chatham Middle School students step onto campus on Sept. 6, things will look a little different.
Principal Robert Accardi said that after numerous concerns reported from parents and teachers in the last academic year, the school decided to revise its dress code.
"We haven't had a revision in a good many years," Accardi said, "[but] last year we noticed a real change in some of the clothing that had become popular with the kids."
The new fashions for the tween and young teens who attend the school "were very revealing," Accardi said. "Very short dresses, very short shorts, and tops that were revealing more skin than we thought was appropriate for a school environment."
At first Accardi said that the school was permissive of the style because of the weather. "Last year it was very, very hot when school stoarted," he asid. "We thought [the students' clothing] would change back to something more reasonable as the year went on and it got colder. But it didn't.
"We were in a bind. Fashions had changed, but our dress code was not in line," he said.
Complaints came in from teachers, parents and students themselves. "The kids would wear the clothing to be like the other kids, but then when they were in a position where they were with adults, we were noticing that they were uncomfortable," Accardi said. "The feeling that this is a school and a place of learning was being encroached upon."
A committee of 20 staff members, four members of the PTO and seven students, with representatives from each grade, was formed to revise the dress code.
"I asked for suggestions from the staff for kids who would have a mature outlook, who would be able to handle a frank discussion about the dress code," Accardi said. "I called their parents and explained what we were doing, and they agreed to let their kids be part of it."
The revisions prohibit:
- pocket chains
- hoop earrings
- halter tops
- tank tops
- tops with spaghetti straps
- tops that expose the midriff
- see-through blouses
- any clothing with the names of alcohol, drugs or tobacco product, or inappropiate language.
Additionally, shorts must have a 5-inch inseam, and skirts and dresses must extend below the student's fingertips, and shoes or sneakers, not sandals, are required for physical education classes and science labs.
The revisions also include the disciplinary steps for violations of the dress code.
"We wanted to make the point that that kind of clothing is fine for the weekend, but this is not the time or the place," Accardi said.
Accardi said he hopes that the new dress code both protects the learning environment at Chatham Middle School and teaches students to use their judgement when dressing for different situations.
"The first immediate goal was for the focus to be on school and not on clothing. And the longer effect, and this is something we can only speculate about, but we hope that this will build a greater understanding of the different venues that kids will experience in the world," he said.
The committee also researched vendors that sold clothing compliant with the revised dress code at a reasonable price. "We were mindful that an initial reaction [from parents] would be, 'Oh my, this is going to be an expensive proposition.' So we found clothing that was reasonably priced," Accardi said.
Vendors include The Gap, Target, Old Navy and J. Crew. "We are sensitive to the fact that these are difficult economic times, and our intention was not to cause economic hardship."
Accardi is part of a coalition with school principals from Essex, Somerset and Morris Counties. He said they meet a few times a year to discuss the challenges they are facing in their schools. "This was the most popular topic that we discussed in our last meeting in May," Accardi said. "Everybody's feeling this.
"Advertisers have pushed our kids to a point where they think this is what they're supposed to look like. ... [It's not] any longer just the educational intent of the school, it became sort of a fashion show."
In case you missed it:
Coming up next:
On Friday, Lafayette Elementary School
On Saturday, Southern Boulevard School
On Sunday, Milton Avenue School
On Monday, Washington Avenue School
On Tuesday, the new Anti-Bullying Policy and a survival guide for seniors.