Weber High senior says school's unclear dance dress code was unfairly enforced

Friday , May 19, 2017 - 2:16 PM68 comments

ANNA BURLESON, Standard-Examiner Staff

PLEASANT VIEW — Micaela Duran decided that even though she hadn’t gone to any other school dances her senior year at Weber High School, she would have one last hurrah.

She donned a peach, deep-cut, floor-length dress with a flower pattern. It was one she had worn to an honors ceremony at the school about two weeks earlier.

But when she got to the last dance of the year May 13, Principal Velden Wardle told her she couldn’t come in because her dress was inappropriate.

“Before it was just a dress, but now it kind of acts as a symbol of my expression,” Duran said. “So while others may find it immodest, which I’m sure plenty do, I still should have the ability to freely express myself and my femininity through whatever I wish.”

Duran, 18, was particularly upset because she had worn the dress to the honors ceremony and hadn’t been reprimanded then.

Weber School District spokesman Lane Findlay said the school’s principal did take note of the dress at the school event and asked advisers to tell Duran it violated the school’s dress code.

But that never happened, something Wardle didn’t know when Duran showed up at the senior dance wearing it.

“I felt like I should have been allowed in because it was their mistake and not mine,” Duran said.

A detailed dress code available online stipulates what students can and cannot wear at school, explaining that for example, no headwear is allowed, but leggings are acceptable as long as they’re not sheer.

However, a separate set of rules for dances states the dress code will be “determined by the sponsoring group and approved by the administration. It is highly recommended that school dress standards relating to modesty be encouraged and supported by parents for all dances.” 

Findlay said this means decisions are ultimately left up to the principal.

“There probably is some gray area as far as what would be acceptable and what wouldn’t be, and that would be up to the administration based on what their dress code is at the school,” he said.

That gray area meant Duran didn’t get in, but other girls in low-cut or short dresses did. One of them was her friend Micah Coomes, an 18-year-old senior who wore a short, pink-toned dress.

Coomes admitted she wasn’t sure she would be allowed in wearing her dress, which she said was open-backed and high-cut. When confronting the school’s principal about Duran’s dress, she pointed these things out.

“He disagreed with me and said, ‘Your dress is ultimately more appropriate than hers is,’” Coomes said.

Findlay, upon seeing a photo of the two girls together in their dresses, said, “It’s tough.”

“When you look at the dress code, there is some discretion as far as administrators and what would be accepted and what wouldn’t be,” he said.

Duran said that isn’t fair.

“A girl with a smaller chest could have gotten into the dance wearing my same dress, but I was targeted specifically for my body shape, which is something that happens consistently in girls’ lives,” she said.

Story continues below the photo.

The dress code debate is not new. News outlets have reported on school dress codes and the controversy they sometimes create across the United States.

In 2012, the Deseret News reported Stansbury High School held a replacement dance after about 24 girls were turned away for wearing dresses staff monitors deemed inappropriate. 

In 2014, FOX 13 reported a girl was kicked out of a Bingham High School homecoming dance because the school's dress code stated, “Hemlines should go no higher than mid-thigh when seated.”

Coomes said dress codes unfairly target women and sexualize their bodies. 

“But I thought I shouldn’t have been let in and Micaela should have,” she said. “I was arguing that point 100 percent.”

Duran said she would have been allowed in the dance had she been willing to put a sweater or jacket on, a solution Findlay said is common at Weber School District schools.

A group of Duran’s friends, including Coomes, confronted the school’s principal. Duran said the conversation was tense and there was “some swearing.” Ultimately, Duran and Coomes chose to leave the dance.

“It was entirely humiliating,” Duran said. “I’ve never had a problem with the school before.”

Duran wrote about the incident in a Facebook post, and many responded with support. 

Back in school after the dance, Wardle and Duran met to talk about the incident. Duran is the school’s graduation speaker, and Findlay said the conversation was to make sure she was OK and still planned on speaking.

That wasn’t Duran’s experience.

“In all honesty, it made things worse,” she said. “It didn’t seem genuine at all. It seemed self-serving.”

Findlay said the district and its schools want students to have a good time at dances and other fun events, but there have to be rules.

"We're not there to be heavy-handed with students, it’s just there is a dress code and students need to respect that,” he said. “Maybe that's the bottom line. Students should respect that."

The dress code standards were applied across the board, Findlay said, as some boys at the dance were admonished for unbuttoning or taking their shirts off.

Findlay said dress code violations such as these one-time offenses at the dance wouldn’t result in any punishment, like withholding diplomas or not allowing a student to walk at graduation.

“The majority of the time its simply, ‘Hey, you need to make an adjustment in your attire.’” he said. “If a student refused to, then they would be asked to leave a dance and not be able to participate.”

Contact education reporter Anna Burleson at aburleson@standard.net. Follow her on Twitter at @AnnagatorB or like her on Facebook at Facebook.com/BurlesonReports.

Sign up for e-mail news updates.

×