Regional School Unit 56 Director Joy Bradbury of Peru, second from left, speaks Tuesday about the student dress code policy at the board meeting at Dirigo High School in Dixfield. From left are board secretary Cathy Arsenault, Bradbury, student representative Dianna Cayer, Directors Liz Kelly of Dixfield and Brad Dyer of Carthage. Marianne Hutchinson, Rumford Falls Times

DIXFIELD — Regional School Unit 56 Director Tina Courtway of Peru told board members Tuesday that enforcing the student dress code policy adopted in April needs to be a priority.

“I’m told that it’s just not enforced,” she said at the meeting at Dirigo High School. “There is a good policy in place; it’s a great policy. It covers for males, females and other students what they should and should not be wearing in school, but the students and the parents are under the impression that they can wear whatever they want because it will not be enforced at all.”

Heather Bishop of Carthage, a district employee who works in school kitchens, said some students’ clothing does not follow the dress code.

“I know that leggings and pajamas and string tank tops are all like not allowed, crop tops, these are all items that I see every single day,” she said. “I see butt cheeks, I see breasts, I see midriffs and at times I know that it makes some of the staff uncomfortable because they’re afraid to address something because it may be turned around against them. I also know that … it makes me uncomfortable when I can see more than I should be seeing.”

Superintendent Pam Doyen, who is also principal of the high school, said she has addressed a number of students this year about the dress code and spoken with board Chairwoman Barbara Chow of Dixfield about how challenging the code is and about potentially bringing it to the Policy Committee for review.

Student representative to the board, Dianna Cayer, a high school junior, said although she understood it’s difficult for teachers to address student dress, “some of the stuff on this (policy) might be a little ridiculous, and I think skin is just skin. If you’re not seeing any like genitalia, nipples, or anything, I think that it’s probably OK,” she said. “Because like, I mean it says you can’t show your bra strap. Would you rather that people not wear a bra?”

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Director Brad Dyer of Carthage said, “Whether it’s in the workplace or here, there are pressures, and I can only speak from being a man, there are pressures on young men by what they see, and women, by what they see, that are a distraction. And I think we’re distracted enough when we’re young, and I think that the school environment certainly you have a lot of young people, hormones coming together. It adds fuel to the fire substantially,” he said.

Cayer responded: “I definitely think that if you’re distracted by skin that’s your own issue. Don’t like send us home and disrupt our learning if you’re being distracted by us. It is not our issue. I don’t want to be sent home from a class that I might miss certain homework and stuff just because my bra strap is showing.”

Director Larry Whittington of Dixfield said, “I totally get what the teachers are saying. I totally get that you see too much of what you (shouldn’t) have to see. But I also know that at the first of the year, students have a tendency for testing the waters. The policy of the dress code here, I don’t think is unreasonable. I think … if this is put in place and something is said to the student body, I think might change, but that’s my opinion.”

Don Whittemore, the director representing Carthage, questioned Doyen’s commitment to enforce the dress code, asking why she thought “it might be wrong to enforce it.”

“I don’t think it’s wrong to enforce it,” Doyen said. “I think it’s right to treat young adults like young adults and if they’re moderately dressed, I will be willing to allow that, except that I will follow this policy. If you want it to the letter, I will follow it to the letter.”

After the lengthy discussion, the board decided administrators will follow the policy, which will be reviewed by the Policy Committee before the meeting at 5 p.m. Sept. 26 at the high school cafeteria.

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