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Stretching the dress code

Revealing fashions — tank tops, miniskirts, bare midriffs — are showing up at schools

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Utah teens are catching the current fashion wave of tighter, more revealing clothing — clothing that is banned by most school dress codes.

"Schools are basically a reflection of what's going on in society," said Lex Tuffer, secondary education supervisor for Weber County School District. "The student dress is always going to attempt to address the fashions."

Those fashions currently have girls wearing bare midriffs, spaghetti-strap tank tops, miniskirts and halter tops — and the trend isn't missing the schools. In fact, students in summer sessions right now are donning the above-mentioned attire to go to school.

"I think it's always been around, but lately it's coming out more and more," said Liz Brown, a 16-year-old sophomore at Woods Cross High School. "It's a trend."

Teens say the trend isn't prompted by the influence of pop stars like Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera.

"I think it's really just what you are comfortable with," said Catherine Benton, another 16-year-old Woods Cross student.

Benton, like many of her classmates, wears tank tops with spaghetti straps and bare midriffs to school. Knowing those are dress code violations doesn't stop her or her classmates.

"It's just not a huge deal, and I don't think it should be," she said. "How can your belly button disrupt class?"

She said that as long as students are comfortable with their clothes, the school should be, too.

"We're in high school now and we should be able to make our decisions," she said.

However, those charged with administering school dress codes don't see it that way.

"It's something you have to deal with," said Rick Call, the principal of Woods Cross High School. Once or twice a day during a regular school year, Call said he sees a dress code violation and takes care of it.

The policy at most schools is that when administrators see girls with bare midriffs, spaghetti straps or other revealing attire, they make the erring student put on a shirt or change her clothes. If the same student is caught as a repeat offender, the student is often sent home.

"We recognize that dress and grooming affect the behavior of students. Not only the students who are wearing the attire, but a lot of times it can become disruptive and distractive to other students," Tuffer said. "We want students to pay attention to what is being taught in the class, not what the students are wearing."

Mike Duckworth, Northridge High School principal, said students are getting more brazen and willing to wear less. But this doesn't change the dress code for his school or others in the state.

"We're trying to set a tone of saying that school is the priority. It's what we come here for," Duckworth said. "If you have to dress a little bit different to set a tone that we are seriously getting on with important things, then that's OK."

Many school principals say they see at least one or two students a day trying to get away with wearing less, especially during the spring and summer when the weather gets warmer.

Terri McCullough, vice principal at Ben Lomond High School, said some students there have clothes that look more like party outfits.

"They still wear the long pants, but it's their shirts that are the problem," she said.

Jolisna Hong, a 16-year-old student at Ben Lomond, said she often sees classmates sporting bare midriffs, tank tops and low-cut shirts.

"A lot of people dress to impress," she said.

Hong describes a lot of the current trends as somewhat "skanky" and inappropriate for school.

Andrea Lee, another 17-year-old Ben Lomond student, agreed. "I think people dress for comfort, but it's a little too comfy for me."

That's exactly what many school officials think.

"Sometimes I see girls that look like they are wearing their underwear," said Joanne Milner, community relations spokeswoman for Horizonte Instruction and Training. "(The dress) exploits the whole notion that women are just sex objects."

Milner said her school has a diverse student body because the school serves both youth and adults. When students first come to the school, she said some wear revealing clothing.

"They see it so much in the media that they carry it out," she said.

Once the dress code is explained to the students, however, Milner said the dress incidents become more isolated. More often than bare midriffs and spaghetti-strap tops, Milner said she regularly sees tight pants and tops.

Not all schools are battling the fashion trend. Stephen Hess of Granite High School said his school is smaller than most, so students more often follow the rules.

"You always have kids that won't, to push the envelope," Hess said. "But usually the kids know that their teachers are going to notice it and send them down to the office."

Hess estimates that the school only has three or four incidents a month, more when the weather turns warmer.

E-MAIL: tbarry@desnews.com