TWIN FALLS • In only nine days, more than 250 students have signed a petition to change the Twin Falls School District’s new dress code.
The new code requires skirts or shorts to be just above the knee rather than at mid-thigh, as the old code dictated.
Twin Falls High senior Brooke Fitzgerald, who started the online petition Sept. 9, said the district should use the fingertip rule, meaning shorts and skirts cannot be higher than where one’s fingertips reach with arms hanging down. That method is more enforceable than having teachers and administrators judge what is just above the knee, she said.
The school board voted in July to change the length mandate except for students in kindergarten through fifth grade, who remain under the mid-thigh rule.
As of Tuesday afternoon, 259 students had signed Brooke’s petition at http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/twin-falls-school-district.
“To sum it up, it is great to see students taking the initiative to be involved and voice their opinions on the student dress code and the change from ‘mid-thigh’ to ‘just above the knee,’” said Beth Pendergrass, district spokeswoman. "This is a great opportunity for students to learn about how school districts operate. There are processes in place that allow all patrons an opportunity to share concerns and work them through the proper channels. In this instance, the first step for anyone who has a concern would be to request to have their concern discussed at a Discipline Committee meeting.”
Brooke said she wants to gather 1,000 signatures and has emailed the petition to her principal, Ben Allen, and to Brady Dickinson, district director of educational technology and operations.
“I haven’t received any response,” she said. “I have a hunch that they are not too concerned, that this is a passing concern. That is why I want to get a large number of signatures.”
Said Allen: “There are some young ladies that don’t care for it and have expressed their opinions in a respectful way. We really haven’t had any issues. It’s been better than I’ve seen in the past.”
Since the start of school, only three students have been sent to the office for dress code violations, he said.
For Brooke, the issue is about comfort, not fashion.
“Just above the knees is the biggest problem. ... the availability of fashion to the knee, that’s not really what’s in style right now. The only option is jeans, and it gets really hot, especially since there is no air conditioning in school.”
Although wearing jeans won’t be a problem in a couple of months, Brooke said, “I’m hoping to get that change happening now, so the first two and the last two months of school won’t be unbearable for me and my class.”
The new dress code has its fans and foes, but school administrators maintain it’s a non-issue.
Dickinson said the enforcement policy is standard in all district schools:
“When a teacher or staff member sees that a student is out of compliance, they will send them to the office. Students are referred to the office and administration addresses it as soon as possible to get the student back in school.”
Students can either call their parents or be sent home to change clothes. In a worst-case scenario, they can wear clothes kept in the office.
“We want to get it fixed and get the kid back in class as soon as possible. It can be a sensitive issue for kids. We are trying to establish workplace norms for the students,” Dickinson said.
During the first week of school, Kasey Teske, principal of Canyon Ridge High School, said he made a morning announcement over the intercom to remind teachers and students about the new dress code. He said he first discussed the announcement with teachers in a staff meeting.
“I did it as soon as the bell rang. I came on the intercom and asked the teachers to do a quick check and to send them (non-compliant students) to the office. Teachers do have to make a judgment call,” Teske said. “They are busy. The good news is they didn’t send anybody down.”
In a Sunday letter to the editor in the Times-News, Samantha Ruggles, a junior at Canyon Ridge High, criticized the “dress code check.”
“Not only is this inappropriate, but humiliating and completely degrading to us students and the teachers as well,” she wrote.
The letter prompted several responses on the newspaper’s website, www.magicvalley.com, and on its Facebook page.
Most responders expressed support for the new dress code.
But Twin Falls mother Joy Pruitt said she doesn’t like it.
“I think it’s a reflection of the religious culture that we have here,” Pruitt said. “I agree that it’s not fair that just because a few of the girls do not adhere to the rules that everyone is being punished.”
Her 12-year-old daughter, Ellie, of O’Leary Middle School, also wrote a letter to the editor, which ran in Monday’s Times-News.
“How ridiculous it is to have shorts to your knees. You can’t even find stuff like that. What we wear is not going to affect our education,”Ellie said.
Teske said that during his announcement, he didn’t ask students to stand for inspection.
“My intent wasn’t to make students feel humiliated, but to mainly remind them during that first week that there is a new dress code,” he said.
Said Samantha: “He did say ‘dress code check,’ so we all stood up because that’s what we thought we had to do.
“It’s been a big deal to us students,” she said. “We are the ones who have to follow it. I don’t think we got much input in the situation in the first place, and I didn’t think it was that fair. I’m not saying that everyone wants to wear inappropriate things.”
Samantha said she has not talked with Teske about her concerns, because she doesn’t think it would make a difference. But she did sign the online petition.
Brooke said she plans to print a copy of the petition for people in the community to sign as well.
Brooke, who is also president of the school’s speech and debate team, said she would like to debate Dickinson or Allen on the topic.
“It would be a great fundraiser for the Twin Falls speech and debate team and a great venue for the petition to get signed, so the community can hear both sides of the story,” she said.
Dickinson said she should discuss that with her principal.
And though feedback about the petition has been positive, she said, some think she should focus her efforts elsewhere.
“My mother, for instance, said I should probably finish my senior project first before I try to take on the administration,” Brooke said.