For years, wearing baseball caps inside Riverside-Brookfield High School would get you a quick reprimand and demand to remove it. But this year students having bad hair days or who just like wearing ball caps can do so, just one of the changes under a new liberalized student dress code implemented this year.
The changes to the dress code were implemented after a joint administration and student committee led by Assistant Principal for Students Affairs Dave Mannon reviewed the rules last year as part of its annual review of the student handbook.
Committee members thought the old dress code was overly restrictive, with some believing the old dress code targeted toward minority and female students. Mannon said the committee thought the changes could be made without affecting the educational process.
RBHS students now can wear hats, headscarves, bandannas and hoodies — with the hoods up — at school. But some restrictions remain. Hats cannot be worn at an angle; they must be worn straight forward or straight backward. While wearing a hooded sweatshirt up over your head is allowed, a student’s face must remain visible. And the revised dress code states that headwear in the instructional environment, i.e., classrooms, is under the sole discretion of the teacher.
In a change that mostly affects girls, the new dress code also eliminated the requirement that sleeveless attire must have straps that are at least two inches wide. Now there is no minimum width requirement on straps.
Language that required students to wear opaque clothing from the shoulder to the mid-thigh was also eliminated.
The new dress code still prohibits “clothing that is deemed vulgar, inappropriate, unsafe or disruptive the educational process (e.g., advertising/display of alcohol, drugs, sexual innuendo).”
RBHS school board President Deanna Zalas said that while the dress code changes came from the administration, the school board supported the changes.
“The administration brought the changes forward and the board looked at them and didn’t have any issue with them,” said Zalas. “It was just the right thing to do. Let the kids focus on learning.”
Teachers at RBHS seem unfazed by the changes, saying they have more important things to do than police the clothing worn by students.
Veteran English teacher Larry Forberg said the only change he has noticed this year is students wearing baseball caps in the classroom.
“It doesn’t really matter to me,” Forberg said. “It has not interfered with my ability to teach or to communicate with my students, so I don’t really feel strongly one way or another. I’m just going into my classroom trying to teach, and hopefully they can learn with a baseball cap on and learn with a baseball cap off.”
One teacher said the only downside to the dress code he has seen is that allowing hoods to be worn in class can make it difficult to see if students have ear buds plugged into their ears and might be listening to music instead of listening to the teacher and classmates.
RBHS senior Claire Harrison, who was part of the activity leadership forum that discussed changes to the student handbook last year, supports the dress code changes.
“I think it’s a really great change that’s really important for the students at our school,” Harrison said. “It reminds people that they are more than the way they dress and that people have the right to wear whatever they feel comfortable with.”
Other than baseball caps, Harrison said that she has noticed more students wearing tank tops which has been nice with the hot weather over the last month.
“I think it’s great that that is now allowed because there is no reason that anyone’s shoulders should be considered a political issue on the educational experience,” Harrison said. “Students probably also see more self-expression through the way people dress. Fashion is a big thing for some people, so I think it’s a great opportunity for them to dress how they want without anyone making comments that are uncomfortable.”