In Bemidji, new dress code collides with gym class

Four inches above the knee. That’s the updated dress code for middle- and high-school students in Bemidji, and some parents suggest by students, they mean girls.

“The new policy indicates that the minimum length is the same as the shorter end of a typical sheet of paper folded lengthwise,” the Bemidji Pioneer reported last week.

Or, as we used to say back in the day when I was in middle school, “four inches.” They’d use rulers back then.

But, whatever. Fold up an 8 1/2 x 11 piece of paper and hold it to girls’ knees, if that’s what teachers need to do now.

The boys aren’t getting away unscathed, either, however. Baggy pants or shorts worn below the waist are also out.

Rebecca Hoffman’s daughter lasted two days in middle school before she was sent home by a gym teacher, she writes in a letter to the paper. She says the teacher told her daughter her gym attire could distract the boys.

This statement highlights a major flaw in the implementation of the dress code — staff education. As a result, a damaging message was sent to my child and all other sixth grade girls and boys. Laura Bates, founder of the Everyday Sexism Project, aptly writes, “I can’t help feeling there is a powerful irony in accusing a girl of being ‘provocative’ — in projecting that societal assumption onto her adolescent body — before she is even old enough to have learned how to correctly spell the word.” Sadly, one of the biggest risks of adolescence for girls is that they will emerge from it with a poor self-image, low expectations and significantly less confidence in themselves than boys.

It’s been clearly documented that girls get shortchanged in the American classroom. The New York Times reported that in a survey of 3,000 children, most girls were both confident and assertive at the age of 9 with an overall positive self-image. But by the time they reached high school less than one-third of the girls continued to feel this way. This study joins a host of other studies that have reached this same conclusion. According to the NYC Girls Project, the impact of low self-esteem ignites a host of challenges and risks for girls including eating disorders, bullying, early smoking and alcohol use, early onset of sexual activity and even obesity.

Last spring, students protested to the school board after several students were sent home. A school officials says boys were “dress coded” more than girls because the dress code includes hats.

The chair of the school board said the new policy is a response to a “social media hullabaloo.”

(h/t: Kristi Booth)