Does M-A Have a Dress Code?

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Cover image illustrated by Olivia Hom

Most students don’t think about M-A’s dress code. Compared to many middle schools that students attended, M-A’s dress code is very relaxed. So what is M-A’s dress code? What purpose does it serve? 

The Student Handbook states that the dress code requires students to “dress in a manner that is appropriate for school” in order to create a safe and comfortable learning environment. The majority of regulations restrict clothing that has hateful and inappropriate speech or symbols. The only regulations for the fit of the clothing itself is that “shirts and shorts should be appropriate for school.” This vague language allows faculty to dress-code students based on their own standards of “inappropriate” attire. 

Administrative Vice Principal Nicholas Muys said, “[The dress code] is a little bit open to interpretation and the point is to sort of avoid anything that would distract from the learning process and, that too, is fraught with potential misunderstandings.” He described the dress code as “a hard document to draw, and I think a one-size-fits-all approach to it is probably tough to do, just because things change so much.”

Getting “dress-coded” is pretty rare at M-A, but it does happen. Junior Sofia Merlino was dress-coded this school year by a campus aide. She explained that, since it was her first violation, she was let off with a warning. She said, “I didn’t have to change my clothes or anything, she just made me pull my shirt down. I was kind of confused, because I have worn that outfit before and been fine.” Merlino also stated that she has seen other people wear similar outfits without any trouble. 

Muys explained that it is hard for teachers to justify dress-coding a student if their clothing isn’t explicitly inappropriate. “I think we’ve gotten away from having rulers to measure the width of a T-shirt or a shoulder strap or things like that. That is problematic to enforce on lots of levels,” he said.

Junior Doug Hoiberg was dress-coded for wearing a T-shirt with a beer brand logo, which violates the Student Handbook’s prohibition against “alcohol/liquor symbols or words.” “My teacher dress-coded me, and that is the first time I have ever been dress-coded at M-A,” Hoiberg said. He continued, “I was called out in front of the class and was forced to change my shirt.”

Muys explained, “I would say that as a school, we haven’t done a great job enforcing the dress code. That could be for a few reasons. There are some things that are fairly clear, right? If we see a student with sexually explicit clothing or clear violent imagery, then we’ll have that conversation.”

While discussing the dress code, the topic of freedom of expression came up and if M-A’s dress code has ever disrupted a student’s rights. Muys shared, “There were open debates where we had students that would tell the administrative team a lot of these policies seem to be shaming and sort of focusing more on how women are dressing on campus rather than men. We have to be mindful of applying a particular policy equitably, fairly, and sensitively, and it’s really hard to do with the dress code.”

M-A’s dress code is complex to say the least. While a dress code is used in hopes to create a productive learning environment, it can also be destructive to the community. Muys said that if students or staff feel that their experience at M-A is impacted by the dress code, they should not be afraid to voice their opinion. He explained that the administration is “open to feedback and we want whatever [dress code] policy we have to make sense and be doable.”

Ella Ahn is a senior at M-A this year. She enjoys writing about sports and her community. Ella enjoys spending time with friends and traveling to new places. She is an officer on M-A Dance Team this year and is a competitive dancer outside of school.

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