By Dharma Bartram
The dress code has become a controversial topic at Novato High School for both administrators and students. Many members of the Novato High community have strong opinions regarding the dress code and the way it is enforced. The interpretation of the code has often been a topic of conflict.
Monique Bethal, a familiar face who has been working at Novato High School for seven years, is one of the staff members known for enforcing the dress code.
“The purpose of the dress code is so that clothing isn’t a distraction from learning,” said Bethal. “In our handbook, the Novato High hand book, it kind of spells out the dress code. I think it’s so that things won’t be distracting you know areas, certain body part areas.”
Claudia Coconubo, who not only teaches Spanish 3, but also Spanish 4 Honors and Spanish 5 AP, also supports the dress code.
Coconubo said she believed the dress code was in place, “so that our environment and school is safe and professional and training students for the real world.”
Senior Veronica Arata was spending part of her summer making sure registration ran smoothly along with the rest of the leadership students when Vice Principal Greg Fister stopped her and told her that the shirt she was wearing, which showed her belly button, would not be appropriate when school is in session. Her belly button was showing, but she was within the dress code’s parameters.
“I was pretty annoyed and aggravated,” Arata said.
Junior Courtney Murphy also allegedly violated the dress code. While Murphy was on her way to the library, Bethal approached her and said her shorts were too short. Murphy later checked the dress code and found that her shorts were school appropriate according to the text.
“I felt uncomfortable, Murphy said. “I felt threatened and I didn’t feel okay.”
Jack Mason, senior and member of the varsity basketball team, was pulled out of a rally by Assistant Principal Jenn Nickl because he wasn’t wearing a shirt under his overalls.
“I feel discouraged to express myself (and) sad,” Mason said.
While the dress code does not specifically ban showing one’s belly button, describe a specific length for shirts, or have any distinct parameters for showing skin, it does say that Novato High will not allow clothing that, “prohibits full participation in the educational program or distracts and keeps students from learning.” This wording appears to be open for interpretation.
Principal Matthew Baldwin believes that students and administrators should come together every year and form a new, updated dress code which everyone agrees with. He notes that the dress code historically has not involved a lot of student input and wants that to change.
“I don't think there’s been a lot of student voice and choice in creating that (the dress code),” Baldwin said. “At most schools, it's more like ‘this is the way it is dealt with.’ It's not fluid and it's not agile. It doesn't change at all. It's just kind of like ‘this is what it is’ and there's not a lot of thought that goes into it.”
“We need to create an approach that is as uniform as possible so that people aren't offended because it’s delicate and I don’t want students to feel like they’re being harassed,” Baldwin said in regard to the dress code’s enforcement. “It’s embarrassing, I’m sure it’s embarrassing.”
Baldwin emphasized the importance of safety at Novato High School.
“You're on campus to learn and be safe and feel comfortable,” he added. “We need to make sure of that.”
The dress code is one of the first items on the Student Advisory Committee’s agenda. Baldwin hopes they can devise a cohesive plan to change the dress code so it is agreed upon by both students and staff.