Parras Middle Schoolers challenging dress code Rani Crosby Ava Szymanski and Sophia Safranek

Parras Middle School 8th graders, left to right, Rani Crosby, Ava Szymanski and Sophia Safranek are challenging the school's dress code policy, which they say is unfair to girls. (Photo by David Rosenfeld)

When a student at Parras Middle School violates the school dress code policy by wearing shorts too short or a top that's too small, they are usually asked to call their parents to see if there is something else that can be brought for them to wear.

If that's not possible, the school will provide a gym uniform often with the words "dress code" or "loaner" across the front.

Ava Szymanski, an 8th grader, and two of her classmates — Rani Crosby and Sophia Safranek — thought parts of the dress code policy didn't make sense, so they decided to try and change it.

"The dress code we have at the moment I think is unreasonable," Moore said in an interview this week. "Girls were getting 'dress coded' so often. I felt that wasn't something that should be happening."

So the girls recently scheduled a meeting to discuss it with school board president Brad Waller and Parras Principal Jonathan Erickson, who agreed to make at least one change immediately.

No longer will the school provide gym uniforms for dress code offenders, Erickson said, but rather a school sweatshirt, t-shirt or sweatpants, which they call spirit gear.

"Their recommendation of replacing it with spirit is more positive," Erickson said. "We want to have sweat pants as an option not just the shorts. Have a hoodie now as an option too."

Szymanski said the gym clothes were embarrassing for students. Even though it never happened to her, she sympathized.

"It’s an embarrassing experience for people," Szymanski said. "The actual dress code shirt itself can be well more distracting than the original article of clothing."

The experience has turned out to be a great lesson in civic engagement, said the girls' mothers. Sometimes change can happen fast while other things might take longer, they told them.

District policy

The school's dress code policy is set for both middle schools in the district—Parras in South Redondo and Adams Middle School in North Redondo. Among the sticking points, Moore said, are two things: Tank tops must be no smaller than about 1-inch wide at the shoulder and all shorts and shorts must be as long as the longest finger with hands placed at the student's side.

Szymanski said the policy unjustly targets girls more than boys. For one thing, it's just hard to find shorts that long or tank tops with wider straps, she said.

"We aren’t really marketed stuff that fits that guideline as much as guys are," she said.

Erickson said he was extremely impressed with the way the students handled their concerns.

"They were professional and prepared and reasonable," the principal said in an interview Tuesday. "They asked for a lot but kind of knew there might be some sort of compromise."

Erickson said a dress code in general is important to provide a comfortable learning environment so every student has an equal chance at success.

Timeless debate

One argument the girls brought up strikes to the heart of some major gender and sexuality issues being debated in popular culture.

"They often say clothes can be distracting," Szymanski said. "Girls are blamed for the distractions of boys. It's not our fault our skin can be distracting. Instead of penalizing us, boys should be taught to not sexualize girls instead."

Erickson said he pointed out that dress codes are not only aimed at the opposite gender but so that all students, including girls, feel comfortable no matter their body type.

"They said they understood that too," Erickson said.

Aditi Crosby, Rani's mother, said she has her own dress code as a parent.

"I am a pretty strict parent," Crosby said. "One time someone said something to her and we've both been confused about it. She does not leave the house if I think she's wearing something inappropriate."

Crosby said she was proud her daughter decided to join her friends in taking action.

"She has been talking about it for a while," she said.

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