LYNNFIELD — A new dress code policy for the schools is headed back to the drawing board after the School Committee engaged in a spirited debate about it during a recent meeting. 

Policy JICA, which pertains to the school system’s dress code, was updated by a previous incarnation of the School Committee in August 2021. The school board updated the policy after a group of Lynnfield Middle School eighth-grade girls, including School Committeeman Jamie Hayman’s daughter Ella, said during a June 2021 meeting that the prior policy for all four schools was unfair towards girls and was being unequally enforced.  

School Committee member Jenny Sheehan, who serves on the Policy Subcommittee, said the revised dress code policy was a “rough draft.”

“We are still soliciting feedback from the principals and the public as well,” said Sheehan. “We looked at other districts to see what other kinds of dress code policies are out there. As you can imagine, it is everything under the sun. We wanted to focus on what could be considered disruptive, disrespectful or a safety concern in the classroom setting.” 

School Committee member Jim Dillon, who also serves on the Policy Subcommittee, said the district’s student handbook does not include “any dress code information.” 

“We have it in the policy,” said Dillon. “In looking at the 15 to 20 high-performing school districts that I looked at, all have dress codes in their student handbooks.” 

Hayman said the dress code policy was changed three years ago because it was “inequitable and against girls.” He asked what prompted the Policy Subcommittee to recommend that the dress code policy be changed. 

“From my point of view, there are a lot of teachers who want hats off of the students,” said Dillon. “We were in the schools and observed students’ behavior and dress.”

Dillon also said former Superintendent Kristen Vogel was “involved in dismantling standards for the district.” 

“In looking at some of the policy changes that were made, I would consider them to be sabotage if they would be forced onto the school system by an outside entity,” said Dillon. “It is important to have an appropriate dress code. That is informing my decision.” 

Hayman asked Dillon how many teachers he spoke with about the dress code. 

Dillon said he spoke with a “few” teachers. 

“If we are going to make changes to things, we have to support it with data,” said Hayman in response. 

School Committee Chair Kate DePrizio said revising the dress code policy would improve the culture in all four schools. 

“The way students dress and show up for school sets an expectation for what students will be able to learn that day and how they will be able to learn,” said DePrizio. “I have talked to administrators and teachers at all levels who have made remarks that there are issues with clothing.” 

Hayman said he was not advocating for “keeping” the current dress code policy or advocating that the district “shouldn’t evolve.” 

“Things change every year, and we have to look at it,” said Hayman. “It would be irresponsible not to look at it. I just want to make sure we are making decisions that are supported by data. Saying we are hearing from teachers but can’t quantify the issue gives me great anxiety.” 

Dillon said school districts such as Dover-Sherborn, Ipswich, Masconomet, Weston and Winchester have stricter dress code policies than Lynnfield Public Schools. 

“I am not going out on a limb with something crazy,” said Dillon. 

Interim Superintendent Tom Geary said the Lynnfield Teacher Association’s building representatives have told him “clothing is an issue.” 

School Committee Vice Chair Kristen Grieco Elworthy asked Hayman what component of the policy made him feel uncomfortable. 

Hayman said he was concerned about the proposed dress code policy’s language that sought to prohibit “clothing that is revealing or overly exposes the chest, abdomen, genital area or buttocks.”  He said the language pertaining to the genital area and buttocks was a “no brainer,” and said the language about the chest and abdomen was “more geared towards girls” and is “totally subjective.”  

 “When we talk about exposure, what does that mean?” Hayman asked. “There is so much that goes into that. When the students came in three years ago, kids were being targeted by certain teachers for things that other teachers weren’t enforcing.” 

Geary said the revised dress code policy’s purpose is to “establish a culture” in the schools. 

Hayman said it’s possible to “establish a culture of respect in an equitable way.” 

“I think if we don’t hold girls to this same high standard, we are not being equitable,” said DePrizio in response. “We are saying we don’t care what you wear, and you can show up however you want. I don’t think there is any approach here that comes close to questioning young women, measuring what they are wearing, accusing them of wearing something inappropriate or having some disparity. I think the intent is to be fair and reasonable in all ways. Nobody is mentioning a girl’s outfit unless it is possibly overly exposed. We sat in a lunch, and there were things that were overly exposed at the middle school that made me uncomfortable.”

Elworthy said dress codes “can be challenging for women.” She proposed that the policy’s language be tweaked while still ensuring it is “setting standards.” 

“The idea is to give teachers and administrators a tool that says, ‘Please don’t wear that again,’” said Elworthy. “If people are being targeted for what they are wearing in an inappropriate way by high school teachers, that is a totally different issue.” 

Hayman said “the biggest issues” with the previous dress code occurred at the middle school. 

“We know that is an age where kids are developing and is awkward for both boys and girls,” said Hayman. “We need to acknowledge that. I don’t know what the answer is, but if it were up to me, I would take the language about the chest and abdomen out.”

Hayman also stressed that parents have to input about their children’s attire. 

“The harm that comes with you saying something is okay to go to school with and a teacher is saying no is not good for their mental health,” said Hayman. “That is the specific instance I am talking about, and it happens way more often than you think. I think we need to leave some discretion to the principals.” 

Dillon said Hayman “raised a good point.”

DePrizio suggested that the entire School Committee work collaboratively to revise the dress code policy’s language. Hayman, Elworthy, Dillon and Sheehan expressed their support for the proposal.