I’ve been with this school since 6th grade. After going through middle school, my mother and I had decided to try a more traditional high school. Then, after a semester at another local high school my mother and I decided to switch me back over to Newpoint/Palm Bay Prep. The more traditional high school had bigger classes, meaning I got less one-on-one time with my teachers. At the other high school, I felt very distant from my teachers compared to Palm Bay where all the teachers know me, they know what I like, etc.
At the traditional school I felt like just a body in a crowd, here at Palm Bay I feel like me.
Something I’ve enjoyed being a part of at Palm Bay is the theatre and Improv group. Mr. Blanks has taught me how to set goals and achieve them. He has taught me how to think on my feet, and how to work with others to accomplish a goal.
Mrs. Booini is also one of my favorite teachers. Not only has she taught me how to write essays, but she has taught me how important it is to vote, and to be involved in my community. I can come to her with any problem and she will do her best to help me through it.
Palm Bay is full of teachers who care and are excepting of everyone. They care and want to get to know their students on a person level that you just won’t find at other schools.
— Kourtney Slay
Students at an Ann Arbor middle school are speaking up against a dress code they say is unfair and arbitrary.
Sarah Myers-Levitt, an eighth-grade student at Forsythe Middle School, organized a protest on Friday, May 29, involving 80 students wearing clothing teachers say violates the dress code.
Girls wore shorts, and some boys joined in, wearing muscle shirts, Sarah said.
According to an email to parents from Interim Principal Tamber Woodworth, the staff asked students to change and did not discipline any students.
But days later, Sarah said, some girls wore the same shorts they did during the protest to no comment from staff members.
For three years, she said, she's had teachers send her to the office saying her clothing, such as shorts or a crew neck, short-sleeve shirt, violates the school's dress code. Until the last two weeks, she said, she was too intimidated to speak up for herself. But she decided it was time to speak up.
First, Sarah went to Instagram and posted about the dress code.
"For the past three years of my life, dress code has distracted me more than anything else at school. Constantly making sure my shirt is pulled down in the hall, avoiding certain teachers, getting called down to the office to change and just sitting there in the morning, out of ideas for 'appropriate' things to wear. My mother would not let me go to school if I wasn't dressed modestly, and she sees me every day before I walk out that door," she wrote to many responses from her peers.
The Ann Arbor schools administration responded to The Ann Arbor News' request to talk about the dress code by sending a copy of the letter sent by Woodworth.
Other middle schools have had rumblings about the dress code this spring.
The Ann Arbor schools' student handbook describes inappropriate dress as, "Dressing or grooming in a manner which interferes or disrupts the educational process, interferes with the maintenance of a positive teaching/learning climate or compromises reasonable standards of health, safety and decency."
According to Woodworth's letter, "some students came to school dressed in a manner that violated the current dress code, i.e., muscle shirts, short shorts and spaghetti strap tops.
"The students were asked to change into appropriate attire for school. Most of them had a change of clothing with them that was appropriate for school. A few of (the) students did not have a change of clothes and their parents were called. Most parents brought a change for their students."
Sarah's disagreement with the dress code and enforcement has different aspects: dress rules that aren't standard, inequitable enforcement and emphasis on girls wearing clothes that don't distract boys.
It's a theme her mother, Karen Myers, and other Ann Arbor parents share.
To Sarah, the common fingertip-length short or skirt rule is arbitrary and unfair. Some students have longer arms, some have shorter arms, she said.
Karen Myers noted some students are more developed than others in middle school.
"I don't like the idea that girls are responsible for not distracting boys," Myers said. "Boys are responsible for their own impulses."
Jen Talley, another Forsythe parent, agrees with Myers about the messages sent to girls.
At ages 12 and 14, girls should be worrying about their education instead of short length, she said.
Bella Preissle, the daughter of Shawn Preissle, is an eighth-grader at Forsythe Middle School.
Preissle said her daughter participated in the protest by wearing shorts and a sleeveless, button-down shirt. She has worn the shorts to school without incident before the protest and since, but that day, staff asked her to change.
Sarah also finds enforcement unfair. Some teachers repeatedly call out certain girls for violating dress code, while other girls who wear similar clothes fly under the radar, she said.
Sarah recalled an incident when a boy got in trouble for wearing a T-shirt with marijuana on it and staff members told him not to wear it again. Girls, on the other hand, are kept out of class until they change, she said.
"Unless shorts are really short and riding up, I don't see a problem," she said.
Getting pulled out of a classroom because of distracting clothes, Sarah said, is more distracting and takes away from her time learning more than the clothes.
Forsythe Middle School often is hot, she said, and wearing shorts on warm days is a matter of comfort.
"It's about how I feel," Sarah said. "I want to be able to focus."
Talley said it's difficult to find shorts that are long enough, she said. She pointed to a Land's End catalog that had longer shorts for girls, priced at $29 each.
But shopping at Target, Kohl's or Meijer is more difficult.
"If you don't want to spend $29 (and instead find) budget shorts at Target, you can't," she said.
Her sixth-grade daughter at Forsythe, Amelia, hasn't had a problem with the dress code because she often wears shorts for boys for their practicality and functionality. But her younger daughter, Abbott Elementary third-grader Lila, prefers girls' shorts, and Talley worries she'll have problems in middle school.
Amelia said she doesn't understand the big deal about spaghetti strap tank tops.
"Boys know girls wear bras," she said.
Preissle said she didn't have a problem finding clothes for her son, who is now graduated, but most stores don't carry shorts that are fingertip length for her daughters.
She suggests school officials look at the dress code every two to three years.
"They need to adjust dress code according to where the world is right now and not to send kids home when they can simply say, 'You have a warning,'" she said.
At Abbott, Talley said, she's heard nothing about dress code. Sarah and Karen Myers said they've heard nothing about dress code at the high schools.
At Tappan Middle School, students had planned a similar protest, according to an email dated June 3 from Principal Jazz Parks and Assistant Principal Chris Roberts.
"Despite what some students seem to believe, there have been no changes made to the current policy. Our dress code expectations are no different than they have been for the past several school years," the email stated.
At Tappan, student dress expectations are:
- Students are expected to wear shorts/skirts/pants that come to at least mid-thigh.
- Students who choose to wear leggings should make sure that the leggings are not see-through and that undergarments and body parts are not visible through the fabric.
- The straps on shirts need to be thick enough in width to cover undergarments.
- Shirts should have full side seams.
- Both boys and girls need to wear shirts that cover the midriff area.
- Undergarments should not be visible.
- Hats, hoods and bandanas may not be worn inside the school building (except for religious and/or medical purposes).
- Pants and shorts are to be fitted or belted at the waist to prevent sagging below the waistline.
Lindsay Knake is the K-12 education reporter for The Ann Arbor News. Follow her on twitter or contact her at 989-372-2498 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Find all Washtenaw County K-12 education stories on MLive.com.