SMITHFIELD – School administrators in Smithfield said they had bigger priorities than making sure students adhere to a strict dress code as they announced relaxed dress code rules during last Monday night’s School Committee meeting.
Smithfield High School Principal Dan Kelley said students are now allowed to wear spaghetti-strap shirts under the new rules. They can also wear hooded sweatshirts and hats that cover the head as long as students are not wearing headphones and are focused on the lesson.
“We have to adjust to the times that we’re living in,” Kelley said.
He said the last school year was difficult, and “kids wearing hats was not at the top of my priority list.” He said kids should be able to express themselves in a way that makes them feel more comfortable, despite the comfort level of administrators.
“Nobody died. Nobody failed a test wearing a hat. Kids were a lot happier because they got to express who they were,” he said.
Kelley said the only downside to the hooded style is it allows students to become less engaged, so the district compromised to allow hoods up as long as a student’s face and ears are showing.
Member Benjamin Caisse said he is concerned about the social and emotional isolation that comes from wearing a hood, but said it is passable as long as teachers can monitor students.
According to the dress code, students should dress in a way that is appropriate for the school day or events, and the dress code should not marginalize or oppress any group based on race, sex, gender identity or expressions, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion, cultural observance, household income or body type and size.
The basic requirement is that “certain body parts” must be covered at all times, including genitals, buttocks, and midriff with opaque fabric. It adds that while cleavage is “generally acceptable,” breasts and nipples should be covered.
Students must wear a shirt with pants or a skirt or shorts, and shoes. Shoes must be activity-specific, including closed-toe for science labs or athletic shoes for physical education.
School Committee Chairwoman Virginia Harnois said she was concerned that some ladies’ shorts have gone “too far on the short side.”
“Having gone to school here in the early ’70s when hot pants were all the rage, they didn’t get much shorter than those,” member Richard Iannitelli responded.
At the elementary level, students must wear closed-toe shoes with a strap in the back due to daily recess activities. Harnois said she once tried to prevent students from wearing flip-flop shoes at the higher levels and the “students nearly lynched me.”
Member Rose Marie Cipriano agreed with Harnois and said flip-flops are a safety concern and restricting them is appropriate at the elementary level.
Students may wear hooded sweatshirts, with hood overhead (though not encouraged), as long as the face and ears are visible. The district is also allowing tank tops, including those with spaghetti straps, for the first time this year.
Supt. Judy Paolucci explained that many fancier dresses are made with spaghetti straps today and said the older codes where straps need to be two fingers wide are outdated. She explained that looking at case law and dress codes, the focus was on being gender neutral and protecting religious expression.
“It’s all about making sure nothing in your dress code prohibits someone from expressing their religious beliefs. It’s very specific,” Paolucci said.
Also allowed are fitted pants including opaque leggings, religious headwear, yoga pants, skinny jeans, ripped jeans and athletic attire, as well as visible undergarment waistbands or straps that can be seen under clothing.
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Students may wear hats facing straight forward or backward that allow the face to be visible to staff and do not interfere with the line of sight of any student or staff.
Students cannot wear clothing with images or language that is violent, referring to drugs, alcohol, vaping or paraphernalia, items with hate speech, profanity or pornography, or items with images or language that creates a hostile or intimidating environment for a protected or marginalized group.
Students are prohibited from wearing bulletproof vests, body armor, tactile gear or any facsimile, as well as items that reveal visible undergarments, accessories that could be considered a weapon or any items that obscure the face or ears (except as religious observance or personal protective equipment).
In the case of dress code violations, students may be asked to put on alternative clothing of their own if available, be offered clothing from the school or parents may be called to bring in a change of clothing, according to the code.