Here we go again.
Tooele County School District administrators appear to be doing their utmost to paint our county as a puritanical backwater where rigid adherence to arbitrary rules trumps common sense. Less than six months after Tooele Junior High School’s principal garnered national attention for cracking down on a 14-year-old girl for wearing a skirt deemed too short in his eyes only, Stansbury High School officials have made headlines for barring dozens of girls from a Homecoming dance Saturday night for wearing similarly “immodest” dresses.
The common denominator in these two episodes — besides an overzealous focus on hemlines — is a lack of good judgment. On Saturday, as the crowd of teen girls in supposedly too-short dresses grew outside the high school, didn’t any member of the SHS administration have a second to think about whether they were being heavy-handed in their implementation of the dress code? When the ranks of the banned — including their dates and friends — rivaled those inside, didn’t any staff member question whether the Homecoming dance, for which many girls had bought new formal wear, was the best occasion for a crackdown on revealing hemlines? Didn’t any of these adults wonder if, rather than focusing on the bony top of a teen girl’s knee or the pale one-inch strip of flesh above it, their real function was to ensure a big night went well for all the kids involved?
It’s been reported that some girls with non-regulation dresses got in while others didn’t. Besides suggesting there was little oversight of the adult chaperones that night, this also exposes several problems with the dress code policy for Tooele County schools. First of all, the dress code doesn’t keep with community standards. That’s obvious from the public outcry after seeing the girls’ supposedly immodest dresses. Second, the dress code is arbitrarily enforced. A hemline is only too short if a given administrator thinks it’s too short on a given day. And procedures for dealing with dress code violations are arbitrary as well.
Those are problems the school district was aware of after the Tooele Junior High incident in May. At the time, Superintendent Terry Linares promised that district officials would spend the summer reviewing dress codes, paying particularly attention to procedures to be followed in the event of an infraction. That didn’t happen. When school opened this year, no new dress code policies had been put into place.
To his credit, SHS principal Kendall Topham has admitted his administration botched the Homecoming dance and is trying to make it up to students. Still, there’s little that can be done to correct the growing statewide perception that Tooele County is home to a ridiculously prudish school bureaucracy. District administrators take note: That sound you hear isn’t the rest of the state clucking their tongues with you in shared moral outrage, it’s a whole bunch of ordinary Utahns laughing at their puritanical cousins to the west.