Student’s self-expression, dress code conflict


In the recent past, the halls of Arvada West were buzzing with the talk of a possible walkout. Students were intrigued as to why there was another one planned just over a year after the previous one–the last one being a reaction to the proposed AP curriculum changes. However, at 10:00 a.m. on that day,  only a small group of students stood at the corner of Simms and Ralston in Arvada, protesting the current dress code at Arvada West.

Explaining the intent of the walkout, Adrianna Passafiume, the organizer, said, “We’re hoping a lot of the kids don’t use it as an excuse to ditch, because a lot of kids ditch for no reason at all. This is to make a difference.”

The controversy stems from a previous incident where Passafiume, the student went to Channel 7News, states that the current dress code policy is so restrictive that students’ self-esteem is being harmed.  The student further indicated that enforcement of the policy was random and subjective.

Passafiume believes that the current policy restricts students’ ability to free expression, which in turn, affects their self-esteem. “I want more people to have more confidence and maybe if they were able to show who they are, with the way that they can dress and want to dress, maybe we’ll have more confident people.”

Robert Bishop, principal of A-West disagrees, saying that compared to other schools, especially in the Metro area, the A-West dress code is ‘pretty lenient’ and still gives the student body a chance to express themselves. Furthermore school officials do not see many in the student body as abusers of the policy. In fact, according to Bishop, most students follow the dress code. There [have] always been those who oppose the policy due to their ‘wardrobe style,’  but they are the small minority that could be the rebellious type.

The dress code posters that hang around school provide a visual example of what students can and cannot wear around campus. They depict a male in a tank top and a bandana with sagging pants, and a girl in short shorts, wearing a shirt that exposes her bra straps and shoulders. There are also written examples, using the people as a model of what clothing is not allowed at Arvada West. Although it was created in 2009, Bishop says it’s still an accurate reflection of what not to wear.

“No need to update it really. The original … we made it [for] A-West. We changed a word or two. So I would say that’s about six years ago if I think about it. But since then we’ve reproduced it, tried to make it bigger, make copies…” Posters like these are hanging in almost every school in Jefferson county, Bishop points out.

The current Jefferson County Public Code Conduct Code was originally adopted in June of 1996, and was last reviewed and revised in May 2013. Bishop believes it shows progress: “We got away from sending kids home and making this a detention or a suspension issue because it would occupy most of our days. So we decided to set the code as it is to be a little more communicative and illustrated about what we want to do and just correct everybody on everything. So if you walked in with short shorts on, we would tell you [that]your shorts are too short, and you need to go change.”

Regardless of the current rules, Passafiume believes it is not easy for everyone to follow. “A lot of people have been calling me an attention seeker and someone who would love who to flaunt around my body parts. That is not the case,” she declares. “The case is for some people is it’s harder to find clothes that fit that make you feel comfortable and sometimes that’s not exactly appropriate for school. I get with butt showing and I get with chest showing, but other than that we should be able to express ourselves through our clothing.”

However, Bishop contends that there are ways for students who want to promote change to do so productively: “I’m very comfortable with our school’s dress code as written. While enforcement is always a challenge, there is no double standard as we apply the code equally among students.  We encourage any student who believes otherwise to please reach out to us and work with us to remedy the situation.  There are many avenues through which students can have a voice in our school through student leadership groups like Student Council as well as through the administration. We welcome all points of view and encourage students to express their individuality through their attire as long as it meets our dress code.”

Passafiume has since talked to Bishop in regards to the dress code, saying his policy seemed understandable, but the protest was in regards to the Jefferson County dress code. As of now, there are no follow up plans and the group is trying to think of other ways to make the school district better.