The long and ‘shorts’ of it… EHS students protest dress code with demonstration

By on March 21, 2012

By: STEPHEN SEEBER Review Staff, Staff Writer

High school students went old school last Friday to protest the district’s dress code on the allowable length of shorts.

In a fashionable display akin to Gandhi meets Daisy Duke, 150 Ephrata High School students pre-gamed on Facebook to plan a short-shorts rebellion dubbed "Booty Shorts Friday" during PSSA testing March 16.

"Guys wore short-shorts all the time back in the day, and we were just bringing it back," said one student demonstrator, on condition of anonymity for fear of repercussion. "I don’t know who started the ‘event,’ but an event was started on Facebook and soon reached 100 people attending that afternoon. The day before, the school really cracked down on the already strict dress code, so we thought it would be funny to all show up in the exact clothes they didn’t want to see."

These students, on a mission, used sweatpants and shorts-over-shorts to work their way past dress code checkpoints. Once inside, the offensive garb was revealed and class disruption ensued. Teachers, armed with rulers, measured the culprits for compliance, sending as many as 120 violators to a retaining room next to the office.

"The rest of the day was chaos," described one student who did not participate. "Students were running up and down the halls, taking pictures, and many didn’t even make it past first period before they were sent down to the office. As I walked down the hall I heard a teacher say, "This is just absolutely preposterous."

While many visited the office that day, no one was punished. And, seemingly, their message was heard.

A statement from the school district, released Tuesday evening by assistant superintendent Dr. Brian Troop, read:

"During one conversation with students who were sent to the office due to dress code violation, Mrs. Eby (Joane Eby, high school principal) discussed a few more efficient ways to suggest revisions to the dress code: ‘I wanted them to know that they were heard, and that if they want to share their perspectives or thoughts on school rules or expectations in the future, a simple letter will suffice.’

"Like most districts, it is not unusual for us to experience an increase in the amount of dress code infractions once the weather breaks, like it has over the last few weeks," the district’s statement pointed out. "Last Friday, there was an organized effort on the part of the students which resulted in approximately 150 students arriving at school wearing short-shorts. While no disciplinary actions were taken by the district in response to this organized effort, students were asked to change into something that was consistent with the dress code, as are all students who do not adhere to the dress code."

According to the district’s Code of Student Conduct, the section on School Dress states:

"Students are expected to dress for school and school activities in a way that contributes to your health and safety, promotes a positive school learning environment, and does not disrupt the events and activities of the school. The principal or designee has the authority to decide if clothing complies with these guidelines. Clothing must be the appropriate size, not oversized or undersized."

The section on shorts, skirts, jumpers, skorts and dresses reveal that these items "shall be worn no shorter than four inches from the top of the knee."

The previous guideline used at Ephrata was the fingertip test (shorts couldn’t be higher than that person’s fingertips when arms are by their sides). Many feel this approach is more fair, since leg length varies from student to student. The Review was unable to reach school board president Timothy Stayer to find out why this policy was changed.

While Friday’s protest was dominated by male students, many having fun while trying to prove a point, the issue has a greater impact on Ephrata’s female students.

"Honestly, I never have had an issue with the dress code, but that’s because I’m a guy," said one student protester. "If I was a girl, I’d be pretty upset about it. I do see girls get called down for wearing what I feel is normal clothing that I don’t associate with being suggestive; things like women’s athletic shorts. They don’t make them down to their knees, so according to our school dress code girls can’t wear athletic attire to school."

"The fact that the dress code is not proportional to the height of a student is the main issue," explained a female student who was present for the demonstration. "It’s very discriminatory that students with longer legs can wear the exact same pair of shorts as someone who is only a few inches shorter, yet the only student to get in trouble is the taller student.

"I participated because of the fact that I believe in the cause," she continued, also under condition of anonymity due to scholarship concerns. "The rule is, quite frankly, completely idiotic and not well-thought-out at all. It’s quite difficult to find shorts which are actually in-style, which meet the four-inches-above-the-knee rule, especially for taller students. The rule needs to be changed."

That feeling goes beyond the student body.

"I’ve spoken with numerous people over the past several days, and I’m getting the idea that not only do the students feel strongly/oppose the issue, but that the parents feel strongly and are supporting their children," said one parent in an e-mail to the Review. "My child participated in this protest because he/she is learning that it’s okay to have an opinion and stand up for what they believe, as long as it’s not harmful in any way to others. I think the administration is too controlling."

Debate on the topic may carry over to Monday night’s school board meeting, which some students plan to attend. Meanwhile, while the administration may not be condoning Friday’s behavior, it does seem to be acknowledging the validity of the effort.

"I have to admit, it is nice to see that if this group of students is motivated for a cause, they can really get organized and work together," said Principal Eby. "I suggested they find a worthy cause on which they can unite to help and support others within the community. Then EHS will be known across the state for starting wonderful movements!" More PROTEST, page A3

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