Stansbury High School principal Kendall Topham apologized to his student body Monday after dozens of girls were turned away from attending the school’s homecoming dance on Saturday because their dresses were deemed too short.
Topham spent Monday morning holding assemblies for each grade level at SHS, explaining what went wrong at Saturday’s homecoming dance and vowing to fix the problem.
“I told them I was sorry for the confusion over the interpretation of the dress code and I was sorry for their feelings of sadness and frustration,” said Topham.
The girls were barred from the homecoming dance on Saturday night after being told by school staff serving as chaperones that their dresses violated the school dress code.
Even homecoming queen Erika Alvey, a senior, was not allowed in.
“I got to the dance and I was wearing my crown and sash,” said Alvey. “I was told if I wanted to come in I would have to go home and put on leggings because my dress was too short.”
Alvey had worn the same dress to a homecoming dance two years ago and was let in without any problem, she said. On Saturday, she went home, put on leggings and was allowed into this year’s dance.
Standards for the formal dance stated that dresses had to be at or near knee length, according to Topham.
“That’s what our dress code has said for four years,” said Topham. “It does sound somewhat vague and that’s what caused problems this year. We are already working on some clarifications.”
However, some students said poor judgment, not a vague dress code, were to blame.
“It was ridiculous,” said Becca Boren, a junior at SHS who was asked to leave the dance. “I thought my dress met the standards. It was maybe an inch above the knee. I was surprised when I was told to leave because my dress was too short.”
When girls were sent home because their dresses were deemed to be too short, others students attending the dance with them also chose to leave, causing the annual celebration to dwindle in size.
“This was the best attended dance in the history of Stansbury High School,” said Jarrett Anderson, SHS student body president. “After the dress code was enforced it became the smallest dance ever.”
No meeting was held with chaperones before the dance started to discuss the dress code, Topham said.
“After I noticed that the number of girls turned away exceeded the normal handful we might typically have trouble with at a dance, we huddled together and agreed that anything that looked like it was within an inch of the knee would be allowed in to the dance,” Topham said.
By that time, several girls had already been turned away and the people in their group that came with them also left the dance.
Donna Hesleph, whose daughter, Amber, was turned away at the door because her dress was too short, said when she got to the school to pick up her daughter the scene was not what you would expect for a homecoming dance.
“It wasn’t a happy,” said Hesleph. “When I got there I saw a long line of girls who had been turned away and they were all crying.”
Frustrated students started a Facebook page on Saturday night titled “Stansbury High Homecoming Spirit Massacre” with pictures of girls in their dresses that were judged as being too short and comments from angry students and parents. By Tuesday morning the Facebook page had 3,430 “likes.”
Word of the banned girls misfortune rapidly spread. By Monday morning, the school’s parking lot was full of media trucks with cameras waiting to talk to Topham. That morning he promised to involve students and parents in looking at the wording of the dress code.
Tooele County School District policy calls for dress codes to be developed by individual schools using input from student government, school faculty, the PTA, and the school’s community council to establish standards that reflect community values and ideals.
Dress codes are to be approved by the school board prior to being implemented and should be reviewed annually, according to the Tooele County School District policy handbook.
The school board has delegated the responsibility of approving dress codes to the administration, said Terry Linares, Tooele County School District superintendent.
Doleen Pitt, Tooele County School District assistant superintendent, who oversees secondary education, said she has read the dress codes for all of the district’s secondary schools.
SHS’s dress code language on dress length of “at or near the knee” is common to other schools’ dress codes, Pitt said.
“It may sound vague,” said Pitt. “But we don’t want teachers running around with rulers measuring girls’ dresses either.”
At the end of the 2011-12 school year, after a dress code incident at Tooele Junior High School, Linares asked all secondary school principals to review their dress codes with their community councils before the start of school in 2012.
Changes in membership and leadership of the SHS community council kept SHS officials from reviewing their dress code, which has remained unchanged since the school opened four years ago, Topham said.
However, just rewriting the dress code to make it more enforceable is not enough for some students. Kaetlyn Robinson, a senior, is circulating a petition to have the dress code changed.
“There is nothing wrong with dresses above the knees,” said Robinson, as she thumbed through a clipboard of pictures of girls turned away from the homecoming dance. “These dresses were all nice and modest. The rules need to be changed.”
A dress code for school activities like dances is needed to enforce community standards of modesty and decorum at school activities, according to Topham.
By Monday afternoon, Robinson had collected over 240 signatures of students and parents.
Topham met with the student council Monday morning, where a plan was hatched to hold a makeup dance.
“It will be a homecoming take two,” said Anderson, who said the student council supports the idea.
Hesleph said that while a second dance will be nice, it won’t be the same for her daughter.
“We spent hundreds on that night,” said Hesleph. “There is no way we can spend that much money and do it all over again.”
Alvey said she doesn’t understand why everyone is making such a big deal out of what happened.
“I accept Mr. Topham’s apology,” said Alvey. “He and the school are trying to do the best they can to make up for what happened. In the end, after we work through this, it will bring us all together.”
Rewriting the policy will help in the future, but putting everything into a written policy can be difficult, according to Linares.
“When it comes down to it, when you enforce a policy you have to be reasonable,” said Linares. “This was not reasonable.”