School Dress Code Bans Strapless Dresses for Girls at Dance

A newly instituted ban on strapless dresses at an upcoming eighth-grade dance in Readington, New Jersey—with a promise to turn away girls who don’t obey—has some parents crying foul.

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“I’m objecting to the fact that government can come in and change the rules without asking parents. That’s an abuse of authority,” parent Charlotte Nijenhuis told the Courier News Monday about the ban, instituted by principal Sharon Moffat at Readington Middle School and backed by superintendent Barbara Sargent.

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While Moffat did not return a call from Shine, Sargent, who would not answer specific questions about the situation, released the following statement:

“The Readington Township School District has a policy regarding dress code which is being universally applied to the school day and school events.  We regret that a small number of families are upset by this and we welcome their input and communication.  The Board of Education regularly reviews and revises policy through its Policy Committee.”

Nijenhuis, who will be joined by other parents at a Tuesday-night board meeting, plans to protest the rule and ask that it be suspended, she said. She also claimed Moffat expressed worry that strapless dresses would “distract boys,” and told the Courier News, “Ms. Moffat’s comment about ‘distraction’ to the boys is particularly offensive because it suggests that boys are not able to control — or ought not to be required to control — their behavior when in the presence of girls wearing strapless dresses. It is neither a woman’s nor a girl’s responsibility to control a man’s or boy’s behavior.”

Principal Sharon Moffat sent parents a letter announcing the new rule earlier this month, stating, “young gentlemen are encouraged to wear collared shirts and trousers; many boys wear ties or jackets. Young ladies should wear a skirt, dress with straps, or dressy pants outfit. Jeans or sneakers are not appropriate for this event.”

The annual spring dinner dance, scheduled for June 14, is being held at a private venue called Razberry’s, and is being paid for by parents—some of whom have already bought dresses for their daughters, said the Courier News.
According to the website of the ACLU, “Lower courts have generally sided with schools and supported the constitutionality of dress codes. Some scholars believe the Supreme Court would be unlikely to overturn a school’s dress code unless it felt the code was really unreasonable or discriminatory. …Whatever dress code a school uses, the code must be written clearly so students know exactly what is or is not permitted.”

Strapless dresses, with both sweetheart and simple necklines, are mega-popular this prom season. But dress codes, for both high school proms and middle school dances, are also pretty common, based on a rudimentary web search for such rules. Middle schools in Jacksonville, NC; Boston, MA; Sparks, NV all ban strapless dresses from dances. Last year, dozens of girls were turned away from their homecoming dance at Stansbury High in Tooele, Utah, for having too-short dresses—but the school later apologized, saying its dress code had “some ambiguity.”

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