Code Dread


Maddi Landa, Editor

Abril Cuin loves fashion. For the 15-year-old Chanute High School sophomore, style is a way to present herself to the world.


She wakes up early in the morning to think, try on, re-think and finally decide on an outfit that she feels suits her that day. 


The problem comes when she enters the high school. 


On this day, Cuin’s first interaction with staff isn’t a greeting, but instead a confrontation over the school’s dress code. 


Cargo pants. A crop top. Muted colors. No logos. No slogans. With her midriff showing, her attire is labeled as distracting and inappropriate. She is asked to change or cover her original clothing. 


“It’s really frustrating to not be able to express myself with my clothes; sometimes I feel judged at my own school,” Cuin said.


Cuin felt distressed to find herself in the situation because her exposed stomach, which she acknowledges was a violation of the dress code, was deemed distracting.


“It made me feel helpless, because at that moment none of the clothes were offensive. It made me feel that the problem was my skin; it was me,” Cuin said.


In the last decade, the number of public schools with a defined dress code has increased about 20%. In the United States, 56% of high schools enforce a strict dress code for their students, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. 


Schools that use a dress code state that it serves to maintain a work environment free of distractions, where students feel safe and can concentrate on their education.


Chanute High School Principal Zack Murry said that same reasoning applies at CHS.


“The CHS dress code’s main aim is to maintain a professional environment,” Murry said. “School is a workplace where kids attend, and it’s important to maintain an appropriate and respectful environment. It eliminates distractions from students.”


Some of the most common restrictions are clothing with drug or gang references, tank tops, and midriff-baring clothing like the top that resulted in Cuin’s dress code violation.


Cuin acknowledged that the presence of a dress code is not totally inappropriate.


“Some of these restrictions make sense within the school environment, since most students are still minors, Cuin said. 


However, for students like Cuin, that’s not where the controversy lies. The issue for Cuin and many students like her, especially females, is that they believe the dress code perpetuates inequality among students. 


“The dress code affects some students differently than others,” Cuin said. “Many of the dress policies of schools specifically target girls, which unfairly single them out compared to men. Typically sexualization of women is seen in many areas, and this is just one more. Many of the usual rules in schools try to neutralize the female body, as we are considered a distraction.‘”


While the Chanute High School dress code does not differentiate between genders, there are females who say they have experienced enforcement of the dress code at a higher rate than their male counterparts.


I feel like the eye is always set on us [females], even if there are other students that also violate the dress code,” Cuin said. 


Cuin isn’t alone in feeling this way.


I think it’s unfair. I don’t get why girls can’t show their shoulders, but guys can walk into school wearing muscle t-shirts,” freshman Mavery Herman said.


Girls are not the only ones who say they see a disparity in the way the dress code is enforced.


“I don’t really care about it, but I’ve never seen a guy get dress-coded,” freshman Trey Bolden said.


Those critical of the dress code say the issue of unequal enforcement is further exacerbated for students with non-normative body types. A garment does not look the same on two different bodies, and critics say this is reflected in the application of the dress code. 


“I feel like curvier girls get dress-coded way more, and that’s annoying,” sophomore Madelynn Lowry said.


Other students say that the disparity in enforcement has more to do with what each gender typically wears as opposed to anyone being out to get one particular group.


“Boys don’t usually wear crop tops or tank tops so they obviously won’t get [dress coded] as much as girls,” senior Ava Harvey said. “It’s not going to be fair, because we don’t all wear the same thing.”


Assistant Principal Tyler Applegate said enforcement of the dress code is more balanced between males and females than many would believe, noting that most of the dress code violations involving males are for the wearing of hats and hoods.


“Boys get dress coded; it’s usually just for something different than girls,” Applegate said.


Members of groups such as the LGBTQ+ community also feel they are in the spotlight in terms of their attire and enforcement of the dress code.


“Some teachers at our high school are against the queer community, and they will make sure to target those openly in the community,” senior Madelyn Hare said. “When they see a student who is openly out they are more likely to find a problem with what they are wearing.”


Murry pushed back on the idea of teachers specifically targeting kids because of any collective they may or not belong to.


“I don’t think that teachers are targeting anybody for any specific reason. I think that we have a policy, and they read the policy and apply it,” Murry said. “… I’ve yet to hear a teacher attack a kid, I’ve yet to hear an adult [at school] attack students, especially for whatever they’re representing.” 


Regardless of whether any groups are specifically targeted, the judging of students’ apparel can be seen as controversial as it can create uncomfortable situations for educators and high school staff forced into the role of policing students’ attire.


“It can definitely create an awkward situation for staff, especially male teachers, to be judging a teen girl’s appearance,” one teacher who asked to remain anonymous said.


Murry argued the dress code is designed to do the opposite, created to limit the instances of students wearing inappropriate attire and thus lowering the chance of staff having to have uncomfortable conversations about the clothes a student is wearing.


“It’s a way to be proactive and try to avoid the conflict,” Murry said.


However, for Cuin and students like her, there is no avoiding the discomfort from the feelings of judgment the dress code can cause, and she hopes its days in the CHS handbook are numbered.


“The dress code is now outdated. It is time to leave all these old traditions behind,” Cuin said.