Alida Beste is an honor roll student, three sport varsity athlete and an accomplished junior at Burlington High School. Last week she was called to the last place you’d expect to find her: the principal’s office.
Her violation: dress code.
“I don’t think of myself as someone who dresses provocatively,” Beste said. “I wouldn’t come to school wearing something I’m not comfortable with.”
While walking down the hallway before class on Sept. 20, Beste was pulled aside by Assistant Principal Noel Green. They went into his office where he introduced himself and explained that the length of her shorts was inappropriate. Wanting to be respectful, Beste agreed with his statements and changed into gym shorts until her mother brought shorts to BHS. The shorts her mother brought were equally short but were not a “flowy” material, according to Beste.
“I just felt like this is not cool and this is kind of a waste of time,” she said in an interview. “It took about 20 minutes out of my class in the morning.”
Beste is frustrated with the decision to single her out.
“Why me?” she said. “I think there are other people in the school that are much more likely to be pulled aside for that kind of thing.”
When her mother arrived with a new pair of shorts, her entire first block Pre-Calculus class walked down to the office in solidarity. Dozens of junior girls wore short shorts the following school day, as part of an effort to rebel against the policy.
This is the first dress-code violation Beste has received in three years at the high school. She was asked to change once while in middle school, she said. Beste attended Edmunds Middle School which required short length to match the length of one’s arm. She does not know anyone at the high school who has been called out for violating the policy.
“Nobody has really been dress-coded in so long,” she said. “People are wondering: ‘Why now?’”
Pushing for change
Beste’s violation has prompted growing questions and concern amongst members of the student body over the clarity of the BHS policy.
“The dress code is not really defined in our school; it’s really vague,” she said.
According to the BHS student handbook, “Pants, shirts and skirts must cover underwear and be of appropriate length.” There is no specification of acceptable lengths. The handbook also states that it is the responsibility of administration to determine if a student is in violation of the dress code.
The landmark Supreme Court case Tinker v. Des Moines (1969), ruled that students do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.” While the ruling provides for freedom of expression in schools, it allows for exceptions to allow undistracted learning.
Beste wants clarity and specifics to make less of the policy up to the discretion of administration.
In response to her incident, she brought her concerns to the attention of the BHS Council, a new student government organization. Beste hopes the Council can bring about change to the student handbook.
Beste does not feel the dress code is being equally enforced across both genders.
“There are kids in my classes who are boys who are showing their underpants,” she said. “The teachers just say, ‘Hey, pull your pants up,’” she said, adding that they are not pulled out of class and asked to change.
She wants a clear policy that creates equal enforcement across genders.
“People say that girls wearing short shorts or other revealing clothes is inappropriate because it’s distracting to boys, and I think that’s not fair.”