Sep 24, 2014 7:56 PM

Parents, students upset at dress-code enforcement

The Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) Parents and students at a Utah high school say they're angry at the way school administrators enforced a dress code at a homecoming dance.

Parent Chad Pehrson said his 17-year-old daughter was one of dozens of students at Bingham High School in South Jordan who were pulled aside before entering the dance last Saturday.

Pehrson said his daughter was told her dress was too short despite it complying with the school policy. She and other students were turned away, Pehrson said, while other students wearing similar dresses or outfits that violated the policy were allowed inside.

Students were allowed to enter while wearing strapless dresses, which are permitted, but other students wearing gowns with straps, sleeves or high necks were flagged because they had keyhole openings in the back, parents said Wednesday.

"To turn my daughter away, and to get her upset over an evening that she spent four hours trying to get ready for . . . and then to have it blown apart, is completely off the wall," Pehrson said.

Dozens of students staged a walkout at the school on Monday, and several parents held meetings and sent letters to school and district officials.

Messages left with the school principal were not returned Wednesday.

Principal Chris Richards-Khong told The Salt Lake Tribune that students were warned about the policies in advance.

The school's dress code states hemlines should go no higher than mid-thigh when seated, dresses should cover the chest and back at the top of the armpit and should be secured.

Abbey Johnson, 15-year-old student, wore a black dress that hit just above her knees and featured a high neckline, lace sleeves that went to her elbows and a back that was partially lace.

Johnson said she was told her dress was inappropriate and had to put on a tank top underneath in order to enter. "They made me feel really embarrassed, along with a lot of other girls," she said.

Educators tried to work with students to allow them to cover up so they could enter the dance, Richards-Khong said. Some students borrowed camisoles from friends, vests from dates, and in some instances, scraps of fabric from administrators.

"The effort is not to embarrass them; it's to teach them so they change the behavior," Richards-Khong said to the Tribune.

But some parents said their children were embarrassed because administrators pulled them out of line and had them spin around to judge their attire.

"It doesn't take much to humiliate a young person that's trying to be their best," Pehrson said. "My daughter came home in tears."

He said school officials didn't have his daughter sit to measure if her dress complied with school policy. School officials also wouldn't look at photos of his daughter wearing the full-skirted dress to prove otherwise, Pehrson said.

Instead, parents said their children were shamed and penalized, and school administrators have not refunded their tickets.

Parent Kristie Frost said her 17-year-old daughter was not flagged for a dress-code violation but about 10 of her friends were flagged.

It was not discreet, and other students wearing similar outfits were allowed in, Frost said. "It's not about the dress code. It was the way the administrator applied the dress code that was the problem," she said.

In 2012, another dispute over homecoming dress codes at a Utah high school resulted in about two dozen girls being turned away.

The principal of Stansbury High School in Tooele later apologized and threw a second homecoming dance for students who were turned away.

Earlier this year, another Utah high school apologized to parents after students discovered their yearbook photos had been digitally altered to add tank tops, raise necklines and cover other dress-code violations.

District officials in June apologized about the inconsistent alterations at Wasatch High School in Heber City and said they were evaluating the policy on doctoring photos.


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