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At Marriotts Ridge, a lesson in appropriate clothing [Marriottsville/Sykesville/Woodstock]

The decades may pass and the styles may change, but teens will always want to express themselves through their clothing.

Parents, of course, provide a first line of defense against questionable attire. However, their older teens may have jobs and purchase their own clothing. They may leave the house wearing unsuitable garments hidden under a sweatshirt. They may rebel against their parents' wishes.

Whatever the reason, once an inappropriately clad child enters school, he or she becomes a concern to the administrators. Students — and even some parents — may chafe at the restrictions and the "clothing police" who enforce them.

At Marriotts Ridge High School, Principal Addie Kaufman has a reputation for strict adherence to the dress code policy.

This spring, MRHS juniors Hannah Roberts and Emily Linderman decided to learn more about Kaufman's stance so that they could write an article for their school newspaper, the Stallion. Their story ended up taking an unexpected twist — one which they would like to share with the community.

One problem, as Hannah and Emily saw it, was the subjective wording in Policy No. 9210 of the Howard County Parent/Student Handbook, that "it is a violation of this policy for any student to wear attire that … unduly exposes or reveals skin or undergarments." The girls realized that opinions about acceptable attire may vary greatly between individuals.

When the pair turned to Kaufman for clarification, they gained some new insight. First, they learned that although their principal is the face of dress code enforcement at Marriotts Ridge, her efforts are a response to teacher complaints about unprofessional attire in the classrooms. To create an effective learning environment, both students and staff must feel respected and at ease. Teachers dress appropriately for their roles, and they expect students to do the same.

Second, the policy wording is ambiguous because it must be. A garment that appears acceptable on one individual may reveal too much on a student with longer legs or a curvier body type. Clothing that appears to "cover everything" while a student is standing may not pass the tests of bending, sitting, walking upstairs or wearing a backpack that pulls at the garment. Cut-and-dried guidelines are just not feasible.

Hannah and Emily decided to take their story a step further and invited Kaufman to help them search local stores to see if they could find mutually agreeable shorts — those that were trendy, yet still modest.

Kaufman ended up shopping on three separate occasions with diverse groups of young ladies, including not just Hannah and Emily, but also juniors Rhoyal Davis, Ashleigh Jeffries, Latrice Lawings, Brynn Morales, Niya Semper and Ashley Wilson and seniors Shoba Kadavil, Minji Kim, Ryann Marchetti, Gabriela Nagle and Ikenna Nicolas. Assistant Principal Choya Franklin and Guidance Counselor Linda Won each attended an excursion, as well.

The students were pleasantly surprised with their collaboration. For instance, they and Kaufman agreed that midi shorts provide a happy medium between "Daisy Dukes" and bermudas. Although few teen-oriented chains carry these more appropriate shorts, the students did find a selection at a handful of stores — American Eagle, Target, JC Penney and Old Navy. The girls noted that sales personnel at all of the stores they visited were helpful in trying to find school-appropriate attire for them.

Hannah and Emily concluded that although a school dress code remains necessary, students can still dress trendily and express their personalities.

"If you look," they wrote, "you will find shorts that meet the dress code without sacrificing style or breaking the bank."

Since students at other public schools may face dress code issues, too, the girls feel that their experiences may also prove helpful to those outside the Marriotts Ridge community. To see more from the student journalists at Marriotts Ridge, go to http://www.mrhsstallion.net.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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