Gender problem: Men enforcing girls' dress codes

Saturday , September 20, 2014 - 1:36 PM


NORTH OGDEN — The Weber School District will retool its training on dress codes after an uncomfortable incident sparked debate about male administrators enforcing apparel rules on teen girls.

Calista Barnes, a ninth-grader at North Ogden Junior High, was working as an office aide recently when assistant principal Kyle Hansen pulled her and some of her friends into a side office. Hansen told Barnes her sweater was inappropriate because he could see through the knitting and could tell she was wearing a tank top under the sweater – something not allowed in the dress code.

“I was wearing a scarf with the sweater, and he told me ‘nice try’ because I had the scarf and my hair down, but that wasn’t close enough. ... He asked if I had anything I could put on under the sweater, and I did because I had a cheer shirt,” Barnes said.

The incident made Barnes feel uncomfortable.

“It was kind of like all of the time I was really self-conscious, and really aware, and felt really uncomfortable that he was calling me out in front of my peers. The way it was handled I felt really talked down to, and I all of a sudden was very aware that he had been looking at my body to notice that,” Barnes told the Standard-Examiner.

Barnes related the experience to her dad, Jared Barnes, and he approached Hansen about it at a sporting event later on,  to let him know that he was concerned with how it was handled.

Jared Barnes said he has no issue with the dress code, but he was not happy with the way it was handled or the conversation that ensued with Hansen at the sporting event. Jared Barnes said the two argued about the situation and that Hansen told him that rules were rules.

But for Jared Barnes, it is more than that. He said it is inappropriate for a male administrator to be policing the dress code with female students, and his conversation with Hansen proved it to be true.

“When a male administrator approaches a female student, that is perceived to be sexual in nature,” Jared Barnes said. He noted that he hates to use the word “sexual” but it’s the best word for it.

After the incident, Jared Barnes took the issue to social media and asked if other young women had the same problem. He got numerous replies, and some of the girls spoke with the Standard-Examiner. Jared Barnes said he has spoken with hundreds of students of parents since the incident and found that the issues is not isolated to North Ogden Junior High, but also at Weber High and Orion Junior High.

Katelyn Bailey attends Weber High School and said she has had similar experiences, although with a different administrator than Hansen.

“It was just really awkward for me to walk around the halls knowing he was walking around the halls and looking at the girls to see if their dress was appropriate,” Bailey said.

Student Lilli Thompson said she doesn’t think the dress code is wrong or bad, but it is all about the approach. One time, she said, she was “dress-coded” and an assistant principal put his hand on her arm and asked her to put a jacket on and it made her feel uncomfortable. She noted that at Weber High School the assistant principal told them they should call their moms or not wear certain shorts again. She liked that better. “It wasn’t as weird. Maybe they need, like, training.”

Training is the now the next step. Weber School District spokesman Nate Taggart said the district is re-thinking the way it has been going about enforcement, but maintains it is not part of an administrator’s job description to go around “inspecting students.”

“We don’t want anybody to feel uncomfortable and there are procedures that need to be addressed,” Taggart said.

Jared Barnes met with Superintendent Jeff Stephens and said he was pleased with the progress that is being made.

“He is just one person, but I feel confident that he has the best needs of the students in mind and wants to make positive changes,” Jared Barnes said.

Taggart said the district was unaware that the problem is as big as it is and that so many students are troubled about male administrators talking with female students.

“We want to make sure that the same gender is working with these students and that our administrators are properly trained on how to properly assess the dress code,” Taggart said.

Taggart spoke on behalf of Hansen as well, saying that Hansen didn’t intend to cause any issues for any students.

Taggart also noted that the dress code isn’t always about modesty issues, but also about vulgar messages on T-shirts. Community councils, made up of parents, administrators and teachers, will also be asked to weigh in on the dress code policies and standards. Taggart said they have been a part of the process all along, but they will also be able to add their thoughts on training.

“Whenever a parent has a concern, we want them to speak to the school,” Taggart said.

Ogden School District spokesman Zac Williams said that while it is not official policy, females most often deal with females on dress code issues. Williams said the parts of the dress code most often violated are rules about hats. For females, the cut of the shirt and length of shorts or skirts is often an issue.

“If, for instance, there are ... circumstances that could be more delicately handled by a female staff member, generally the torch is passed.”

Jared Barnes said he held no grudge against Hansen, but hopes the incident will prove to be a catalyst for change.

“My daughter is a leader at the school and she wants to be a good example,” Jared Barnes said.

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