Dress codes: Good thing or bad thing?
They're called leggings popular fashion items that are tight-fitting pants to some, and glorified tights to others.
Younger girls often wear them as pants with little fuss. But as those same girls approach middle school, leggings have become a clothing accessory that's increasingly controversial and seemingly, the favorite new target of the school dress code.
Some schools have banned leggings outright. Others have set limits. Haven Middle School in Evanston, just north of Chicago, took what turned out to be a contentious stand: If you wear leggings, you need to have a shirt or skirt over them that reaches at least down to your fingertips.
In other words, girls need to cover their behinds.
It might seem a reasonable enough request at a time when school dress codes and even school uniforms are common and often supported by teachers and administrators who frequently complain about students who push the limits of good taste, and the parents who let them (and may even push those limits themselves).
But how far is too far? And do schools sometimes go too far in pushing back?
When safety isn't at issue, says Perry Zirkel, a professor of education and law at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, the courts tend to throw the cases back to the schools and parents, so they can come up with solutions together.
It's not always easy, since many people have a different notion of what's appropriate and what's not and what's distracting, and what's not.
At Haven Middle School, there has been a lot of confusion. Just a few weeks ago, the school's own website said leggings were banned, when apparently they were not, school officials now say. Then there was the matter of yoga pants, which are tight like leggings, but flared at the bottom. Did the fingertip rule also apply to those types of pants, especially when no one could tell the difference if they were tucked into boots, which is also a popular style among teens?
Clearly frustrated with the debate, Haven Middle School teachers posted this statement on the school's website to explain the reasoning behind the leggings policy: "We believe, through years of experience and professionalism, that it is essential to our school's climate that we set a standard of expectation and decorum."
They denied that they acted because leggings distract boys, as has been alleged by some parents.
There are those who argue that the best way to handle the dress code dilemma is to mandate uniforms, such as the blue pants and white shirts worn by Chicago Public Schools students.
"It puts everyone on the same playing field when they're at school," says Kitty Rotella, principal of St. Mark's Episcopal School, a private school for preschool through eighth grade in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. When her students have the occasional out-of-uniform day, she says, she feels like they're more distracted, even if there's no attire she deems inappropriate.
But others question the value of any strict codes.
Haley Bocanegra, a 17-year-old junior who attends high school in Riverside, Ill., regularly pushes the limits even further at her school, sometimes dressing like a boy, or wearing wigs and goggles for a "Steampunk" outfit, or a Japanese anime costume.
She says teachers usually have a harder time with it than her classmates.
"I'm paying attention in class. So why are you making a big deal about it?" the honors student asks, showing them the student handbook to prove she's not violating the code.
Critical thinking challenge: The story states the advantages to school uniforms. What are the downsides, if any?