Wauwatosa West students organize sit-in over dress code

CREATED May 22, 2014

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WAUWATOSA - There's dress-code drama at Wauwatosa West High School. Some students want to wear short-shorts to class, and think it's unfair for teachers to tell girls to cover up. The school says rules are in place for a reason.

"They are just legs," says sophomore Elizabeth Kniffin. "Is that really too distracting? I understand that girls shouldn't be coming to school with their butts or chests hanging out, but there has to be a happy medium."
 
"I think it's pretty unnecessary for them to try and make girls limit themselves because of what they think guys look at us as," adds Keyba Bratchett.
 
As the rules stand now, girls are not allowed to wear shorts above a certain length, or sleeveless tops. They say some teachers will make them stand-up in front of their class to determine if their shorts meet the requirements.
 
"It makes a scene, and a spectacle of the girl," says senior Jestine Langlas. "It makes it way bigger of a deal than it needs to be."
 
So they're fighting back. They organized a "sit-in" protest in the main hallway of Wauwatosa West High School Thursday before school, despite the risk of suspension.  Participants wore short shorts, and passed around a petition to change the dress code. They plan to take their concerns to the school board. 
 
"We're in an environment where they teach us freedom of speech, freedom of petition, and to stand up for what we believe in, yet they're telling us they're going to suspend us for doing just that," Kniffin says.
 
Principal Frank Calarco says he doesn't want to be the fashion police, but expects a certain level of professionalism.
 
"You're not at Mayfair Mall, you're not at the beach," he describes. "That's why we don't allow hats, or ear buds during the school day. There's just a different level of expectation when you're at your job, and that's what we're trying to convey to our students."
 
Many teachers argue that clothing - or the lack thereof - can be distracting. But right now, the dress code seems to be derailing school work more than the outfits themselves.
 
"I think it's a bigger distraction to have all this going on than to just let people wear their shorts," says student Sarah Lau. "Not to mention, you can't even find long shorts in stores anymore. Plus, some girls can't afford to go get new shorts just to wear at school."
 
Principal Calarco did meet with students to talk about the dress code, and to try and find middle ground. No changes would be made until next school year.