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The Leggings Movement: PHS students want to change policy, not clothes


Submitted Photo

A group of more than 20 PHS students from grades 9-12 wore leggings last Friday to protest the school's dress code. Many were sent to the office where they discussed the policy with PHS principal Rick Dormer. Pictured, from left to right, are Tanya Spears, Rosa Lopez, Julia Murph, Mariah Taylor, Izabelle Ith, Alexandra Bless, Julia Niemi, Elisa Larson, Maddy Parker, Marissa Nilson, Hana Newman, Leann Lapeyri, Kallie Caples, Avery Skeek, Trinity Davis and Rikki Lewis. At the bottom are Chandler Strickland and Abi Bennet. 

A group of Petersburg High School students organized a protest last Friday and started a petition this week to modify the PHS dress code policy to allow leggings and yoga pants without the added requirement of shorts or a long shirt.

More than 20 PHS girls wore yoga pants to school last Friday to protest the school's policy that requires a student to wear clothing such as shorts or skirts over yoga pants or other tight fitting leggings.

"Tight-fitting leggings, leotards and spandex bottoms, when worn, must be covered to mid-thighs by shorts, skirts or a long top," the PHS dress code states.

Junior Izabelle Ith was one of those protesters and said around 20 of those girls were called into the principal's office that day where they talked to PHS Principal Rick Dormer about the dress codes, and the steps they could take to change it.

Ith said the dress code unfairly targets women and said girls wear yoga pants for comfort and fashion.

"Instead of shaming girls for their bodies we're proposing that you teach boys that women are not sexual objects," Ith said. "Girls should not be held responsible for a boy's inability to act mature and treat women as people. Girls are not simply wearing leggings to tempt boys or show off their behinds."

Ith said the policy also sends the wrong message to students of both genders.

"When you're interrupting a girl's school day to force her to change clothes or send her home because her pants are too tight and shows the shape of her body you're telling her that making sure boys have a distraction-free learning environment is more important than her comfort and education," Ith said.

PHS student Marissa Nilsen helped take what she described as the "leggings movement" to the streets where the petition was passed around the community.

The Daily Ration owner Mary Koppes signed the petition and said calling yoga pants or leggings "distracting" is problematic because it takes away responsibility from men. She said wearing yoga pants or leggings without cover should be acceptable and that it could offer a learning opportunity for both genders.

"There's kind of a learning opportunity for boys to take responsibility for their behavior, to understand how to treat women, what is acceptable, what harassment is, what respect looks like and for girls to understand that this is actually part of being a woman in the world," Koppes said. "Sometimes you do face, unfortunately, these kinds of situations where you may be harassed or you may feel disrespected or uncomfortable with the way that somebody is interacting with you because of what you have chosen to wear or for any number of reasons in which you present yourself to the world."

Rocio Larson, assistant manager at First Bank and parent of two girls in the Petersburg School District, signed the petition.

"They (Larson's daughters) like to wear yoga pants just like any pants or jeans," Larson said. "They are absolutely covered and the only reason they want to wear it is because they are comfortable. I think for some reason the school has taken this issue too far. It's just a matter of being comfortable when you go to school. I think that any controversy over these pants is taking it out of hand."

Most high schools in Southeast Alaska, including Wrangell, Ketchikan, Sitka, Juneau and Craig do allow students to wear leggings and yoga pants without additional coverage.

Sitka High School assistant principal Sondra Lundvick said they haven't had issues in their school because of the pants.

"Tights or yoga pants are allowed as long as there's no midriff showing," Lundvick said. "Tight pants are tight pants. We don't specifically address or say you can't wear yoga pants."

She said she understands how such attire could distract some young men and that the dress code is implemented in order to not distract from the educational environment.

"Could that come up?" she asked. "Certainly it could. At this point it hasn't been a problem."

Yoga pants are allowed at Ketchikan High School and vice principal Mike Rath said there hasn't been an issue at school yet, but there is talk of banning them.

"They maybe aren't appropriate," Rath said. "They flirt with the line. You have different people with different opinions on what's appropriate."

He described the style of pants as a "fad" and said it may not be an issue for Ketchikan when the fad fades away.

Skinny jeans, another modern fashion garment, are allowed at PHS and Nilson and Ith pointed out what they see as a contradiction within the dress code.

"Tight, skinny jeans are perfectly acceptable but leggings are frowned upon when in reality they're no tighter than a pair of skinny jeans," Ith said. "Leggings are extremely comfortable and play a huge role in women's fashion in the 21st century."

The idea of changing trends and fashion styles might play more of a role in the upcoming discussions.

PHS principal Rick Dormer said the policy was first enacted several years ago when some girls were wearing thin, dance spandex leggings and a teacher brought the issue up.

"Leggings used to be the dancing tights," Dormer said. "I think they are getting a little thicker, a differentiation between leggings and running spandex. There's this idea of leggings may not be the leggings that they used to be so our definition may need to be updated at a minimum here."

Dormer thinks the policy should stay as it is but also said it's not just about what he wants and is seeking community feedback.

"I like it the way it is," he said. "I think it's not professional to be showing like that. I want to clarify that they can wear any of those leggings or leotards. They can wear them right now, they just have to wear a long shirt."

Dormer and Petersburg School District Superintendent Erica Kludt-Painter will meet with concerned students next Tuesday and further discuss the issue after more community input has been garnered.

Dormer said he'd like to hear from parents, community members and representatives from businesses in town in the meantime.

As of Wednesday afternoon, Ith said they have collected more than 40 signatures from people involved in businesses around town who support the change to the dress code.


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