Recently there has been much media attention about the Truro Junior High School student who was sent home from school because the length of the shorts she was wearing did not pass the school’s acid test for length.
Additionally, it is alleged that the student’s mother was informed by the school’s vice-principal that the length of the girl’s shorts presented a distraction for the school’s male students and faculty.
With great interest, I have read many of the online comments on the various iterations of this story. If you sort through the various responses, the inherent attitudes of the posters are quite revealing. It does appear that the balance of the arguments about the length of shorts worn at school seem to favour the school board’s position. I might say that it is hard to argue with this, although many folks are doing just that.
I don’t expect that I will have the final say on this issue, but let me venture forth with my two cents worth. You can decide whether or not it has merit.
There are all kinds of issues that have been raised around this developing news stories, but it really boils down to this – what is appropriate for a public education setting? Please disregard as less noteworthy or frivolous any arguments that do not focus on this over-riding concern.
Schools/boards are ever in the unenviable position of, ‘do we lead or do we follow’ in regard to community mores. The line has to be drawn somewhere. Having selected a position, with acceptable ranges, the schools/board then craft policies, procedures and guidelines
that affect the behaviours and reflect the expectations of its staff and students within the educational environment.
The school community, both within and without, is large and diverse, reflecting a wide variety of beliefs, principles, priorities and expectations. There is no way that a public education institution is going to please everyone all the time. Knowing this, the schools opt for a course that provides students with the best education possible and works to ensure the personal well-being of the students in its care.
In providing a quality educational program, it is incumbent upon the schools to create and maintain an environment that is as distraction free as possible. We know that boys and girls are distracted by each other, especially at junior high school ages when the majority of children go through puberty. This is a simple fact of life that is out of the control of the schools. There are also many and varied other potential distractions in schools; the one under question is that of clothing worn by students.
Generally speaking, a distraction in school presents as an event that draws student’s attention away from the task at hand or comprises a circumstance that causes a student to experience discomfort; neither of which is desirable.
Keep in mind that the level of distraction that the event or circumstance brings to students will vary among individuals. While your child may not be affected by a given example of either of these, understand that other children may be so affected.
Out of respect for students and the sanctity of the learning environment, the school strives to protect all students from the majority of foreseeable distractions so that the students can focus on their educational activities.
It is the responsibility of all school partners to work to maintain, and to enforce as and when necessary, a respectful learning environment. We must remember that schools are shared spaces. The rights of the few do not outweigh the rights of the many.
Given my definition above, the clothing worn by students can be distracting. There are many examples of this; consider T-shirts or other articles of clothing that display messages that are graphic, vulgar, or otherwise offensive. Most would agree that these are inappropriate for schools. A student attending school fully clothed from neck to toe would be no distraction in class, but I believe that we would all agree that a student attending school fully nude would definitely be a distraction ... in our culture. The difficult question then is to decide where between fully clothed and fully nude does distraction begin or end, depending on our initial point of reference.
In its guidelines, the school has performed its due diligence and has stated where it draws the line between exposed and unexposed flesh. Not everyone will agree with this, as some folks tend to be more conservative, while others are more liberal. You have to expect this in a pluralistic society.
Invariably, words get thrown out there as hot buttons that tend to heighten emotions and to polarize the discussion. In the current case, the words gender and sexism have been bandied about. However, in what I have seen of the school’s student dress guidelines, a gender bias is not evident. Clearly boys and girls wear some different articles of clothing, therefore certain of the school’s dress guidelines will at once affect girls and boys differently. This is the only gender implication. Reference to specific articles of clothing is necessary so that students may be guided in the clothing choices they make for school attire.
If you consider the school’s fingertip rule for the length of shorts that are permitted to be worn as too restrictive, know that there are other students and parents who feel that even this is too short for a school environment. Some of the parents arguing against this restriction have stated in defence of their children’s clothing choices that, ‘nothing is falling out.’ I do not believe, as a parent or as an educator, that this is an appropriate benchmark for parents in assisting their children with their children’s clothing choices.
I believe that as parents, we have the responsibility to assist our children in making good choices. Good choices in this case would be in the selection of appropriate clothing for an educational setting, and in encouraging our children to meet the expectations that the schools lay out for them.
Rob MacLellan is an advocate of adult education, an advocate of non-profit organizations, and a resident of Alton. He can be reached by phone at 673-3269, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org