District Dress Code Sparks Controversy Among Skyline Student Body

The dress code has long been a point of tension among students at Skyline High School. Changing norms of fashion and a year spent at home has altered how people dress themselves. Student fashion choices frequently conflict with the dress code. Cropped tops and ripped jeans are not an uncommon sight in Skyline’s halls.

Last Fall, when Pioneer High School renewed its efforts to enforce the dress code, its students were outraged. 

“On the first or second week of school Principal Lowder made an announcement about the dress code which a lot of people including me were upset by,” said Carly Jarratt, student at Pioneer High School. “He said no spaghetti straps, short shorts, crop tops, etc., which are all clothing items marketed towards women. I was upset because a dress code is unnecessary and I just don’t understand why people care so much about it.”

Principal Lowder was contacted to comment on the incident but as yet has not  responded. 

The Skyline dress code can be found in the student handbook and is as follows:


At Skyline, our school is a professional learning environment.  We believe that a student’s attire and mindset are directly related and a student who is professionally and appropriately attired for school is also more apt to treat their education as a professional endeavor and is suited to do their best work. As a result, it is our intent to support our students as they progress by maintaining expectations for professional and appropriate school attire. Our goal is to be proactive and avoid having to ask parents to bring alternative attire to the school for their son or daughter by asking that you discuss the seven statements listed below that outline what is NOT appropriate for school. We are asking for your assistance in making sure that our students are prepared to be successful at Skyline each and every day. 

  1. Undergarments must not be visible.
  2. Shirts and/or tops must not expose the midriff area in the front or back
  3. All tops must have straps or sleeves.
  4. No see-through or clothing with holes that expose skin
  5. Hoods may not be worn on the head in the school building
  6. Shirts, pants and shorts must be school appropriate and not expose undergarments.
  7. Any attire that is deemed inappropriate by school administration

A student may not remain in the classroom dressed in a manner that is in conflict with our guidelines for appropriate attire or the District’s goals and philosophy for the prevention of substance abuse and gang activity. We reserve the right to revise guidelines throughout the year, as we deem appropriate.


We believe that a student’s mindset is directly related to his/her attire and a student who is appropriately attired for school is more apt to be mentally prepared to do school work. The primary components of the dress code are noted below. A student may not remain in the classroom when not dressed according to the school dress code. Pioneer staff reserves the right to decide whether a student’s attire is appropriate or not. We also reserve the right to revise guidelines throughout the year, as we deem appropriate.

  1. Undergarments should not be visible at any time. 
  2. Shirts and/or tops should not expose the midriff area in the front or back. 
  3. All tops should have straps that are at least two inches wide. 
  4. No see-through or clothing with holes that expose the skin. 
  5. Hats/headgear, hoods or hoodies may not be worn on the head in the school building. 
  6. When a student stands with arms straight down by their sides, the bottom of their shorts, skirts, and/or dresses should reach their fingertips or below. This also applies when tights are worn – the over-cover must come to end of fingertips. 
  7. Slacks or shorts should be belted at the waist to prevent sagging below the waistline.

How the Pioneer dress code was made is uncertain. The age of the Pioneer dress code is unknown.

The Skyline dress code was formulated by a group of volunteer students that were interested in making the dress code.  “The Skyline dress code was revised about four or five years ago,” said school administrator Casey Elmore. “To make the dress code we formed a student committee with people who wanted to talk with us about the dress code. Then we revised it with that group of students to make sure that it was not gender biased, as well as to make it reasonable so that it wasn’t something that students felt was too authoritative or unreasonable.”

The Skyline dress code states that a dress code is necessary to promote productivity and put students in an appropriate professional mindset. However, some students challenge that statement.

“People who are dress-coded often have to miss school to find something to cover themselves up or get sent home to miss the rest of the school day, and for what,” asks Carly Jarratt, a student at Pioneer. “The only people I know that are offended or ‘distracted’ by shoulders or bra straps are teachers and administrators. Every student I have talked to doesn’t mind someone wearing a ‘revealing’ shirt.”

There has always been pushback on dress codes from students. In 1969, in the case Tinker Vs. Des Moines Independent School District, students in Des Moines, Iowa sued after being suspended from school for wearing black armbands to protest the Vietnam War. The Supreme Court dismissed the case, stating that it was within the school board’s rights to limit student expression if it got in the way of school conduct, despite the lack of evidence that the protest interrupted the school day. This right of the school board to limit student expression is still upheld today.

“There’s been dress codes forever in schools and I think from what I understand it was more to make school a place where you could focus on learning and not clothing,” said Elmore. “I think it has evolved over the years. The goal for us is to help students prepare for what they might have to dress like in a workforce so they are prepared with the knowledge of what would be acceptable in certain places. But also just to make sure that Skyline’s learning environment is as distraction free as possible.”

Some students argue that clothes have no effect on their productivity and the productivity of those around them. 

“The labeling of revealing clothing as being distracting and interfering with the learning environment promotes sexual assault culture and is just plain false,” said Allison Stoeffler, junior at Skyline. “I have never been distracted by another student’s midriff or ripped jeans and my productivity has never been affected by what my classmates are wearing.” 

Other students argue that the dress code made five years ago doesn’t account for the change in culture that has occurred since then.

“The dress code doesn’t really take into account new standards and viewpoints around expressing yourself through fashion,” said Ella Myers, a junior at Skyline High School. “The dress code desperately needs to be revised.”

In the last five years much has changed in fashion. Trends have come and gone, and movements like #metoo emphasized the message that clothes should have no impact on how those around you act or interact with you.

“I can’t speak to whether we would change it or not, but this [the current dress code] is what is the best we have right now,” said Elmore. “But again, if [student’s clothing] is not interfering or creating a big issue then we’re not worried. Our goal is not to send students home and miss education because of the dress code.”

Despite students being involved in the making of the dress code, some still feel it is discriminatory. Complaints of the rules targeting women are another common concern heard from students. 

“Rules 1, 2, 3, 6, and 7 target women,” says Lily Stewart, a sophomore at Skyline. “Not explicitly, but they restrict clothing items that are popular mostly among women. Just because the rules don’t specify a demographic doesn’t mean the rules are not discriminatory.”

This objection that the dress code impacts women more than men is not a new complaint. Women’s clothing stores follow trends, and a large modern day trend is crop tops and ripped jeans. This presents the issue of availability of clothing that follows the student dress code. 

“There was some intentionality when we wrote the dress code to make sure that it was non gender specific,” says Elmore. “But I do understand that dilemma along the lines of what’s being sold out there. That’s also why we aren’t worried as long as you’re covered up enough to be decent and your clothes aren’t proclaiming something hostile. But we have heard that concern [about the dress code targeting women] and so we have tried to make sure that as much as possible it is not being enforced in a gender specific way, but it is inherent in some of the ways that clothing is targeted and sold unfortunately.” 

The difference between the values reflected in the dress code and the values that students hold today has led some to push for change.

“I don’t think that we should abolish the dress code as there are some clothing items such as shirts with offensive pictures, words or slurs on them that should be prohibited,” said Jarratt. “But we should definitely reform the current dress code which is blatantly sexist.” 

The issue is that the road for change is unclear. The dress code policy is district wide and is enforced at many different levels and standards among staff and administration.

“This matter [dress code], I feel, is a good topic for the student government to take a closer look at,” said school board member Rebecca Lazarus. “If students in general feel that there’s a need for a change, I think it would be wise to start with your school’s student government. Ask them to look at it for your particular school and provide solutions; state the problem, provide solutions and give some reasoning behind your proposed solutions. If they don’t pick it up, then you present it to the principal and your school administration. If they don’t pick it up, then present it to the Superintendent, Dr. Swift and her staff, feel free to copy the board.”

It seems it is up to the students of the Ann Arbor School District to take the initiative if the dress code is to change.

“Administration is definitely open for that conversation,” said Elmore.