ROCKPORT — Form-fitting leggings were back in vogue yesterday at Rockport Middle/High School, after their tight, thin fabric had rubbed school officials the wrong way late last week.
Noting that the school handbook every student receives at the beginning of the year had already banned students from wearing the tight but trendy legwear, Middle/High School Principal Philip Conrad sought to enforce the ban on Friday, forcing a number of girls to change into other attire or into clothes available at the school.
But school officials backed off the clampdown yesterday, and a number of students were back to donning their comfy yoga pants or leggings, while school leaders promised to form a committee to revisit the dress code.
Superintendent of Schools Robert Liebow said that as the result of a faculty meeting, teachers raised concerns that the popular pants — usually made of Spandex or a polyester and cotton blend — were a distraction.
From there, Conrad addressed students last week about scheduling. Yesterday, Liebow said that when some boys were dismissed for causing a disturbance, Conrad — with only girls in the assembly — brought up the leggings concern.
On Friday, students were warned about wearing yoga pants or leggings, and some were ordered to change. In these situations, the school nurse offers to have the student change into other clothes they may have on hand — such as physical education attire — or change into clothes provided by the school, Liebow said. But if that fails, a student is sent home to change, as was the case Friday.
“One student was given the option of going home and changing,” he said, adding that the student returned in about 20 minutes.
Students, however, were not happy Monday and described the situation differently.
“Rockport has a tendency to address these things in an explosive manner,” said 16-year-old junior Alex Arnaud.
She said that Conrad deliberately asked the boys of her grade to leave an assembly before bringing up the leggings. She said that female students felt that men in the faculty thought the clothes were distracting other students.
“It wasn’t right,” she added.
“The word ‘distraction’ is a pretty broad phrase in the dress code,” Liebow said. He said some could interpret that to mean male students are being distracted by the clothing, but he said he did not think that was what Conrad was trying to address.
“The intent was a distraction to the education practices,” he said.
But Jade Barry, a 15-year-old freshman, said she thought the decision to enforce the ban was a form of sexism.
“I just wear them become they’re comfortable,” she added.
“I think it’s really unfair and really unnecessary,” added Laura Budrow, a 16-year-old sophomore.
At least one student felt the issue was blown out of proportion.
Thomas Beaton, a 16-year-old sophomore, equated banning leggings to not allowing boys to wear sweatpants. He said he didn’t find yoga pants or leggings distracting.
“I think there are bigger school problems to worry about than what girls wear for pants,” he said.
According to the student handbook, leggings cannot be worn as pants. Other types of forbidden clothing include bathing suits, tank tops, tube tops, halter tops, see-through shirts, bed wear, baggy pants, ill-fitting pants or “underwear as outwear,” among others.
According to the school handbook, these clothes are not allowed because they “do not contribute to a productive learning culture,” and they are also “inappropriate in the business and workplace, as well as the school.”
While unsure of the date leggings were included in the handbook, Liebow believed they had been included since the previous school year.
Now, school officials are set to form a committee made up of parents, administrators, students, teachers and School Committee members to suggest or review “modifications or changes based on the public nature of the dress code discussion last week,” Liebow said.
“The school has backed off on strict enforcement of (leggings) again pending this committee,” Liebow added.
In hindsight, it may have been better to notify parents so they could have a conversation with their child, Liebow said, adding that it may not have diffused the situation entirely, if at all.
“In retrospect, that might have made things a little easier,” he said.
But, he added, the leggings issue is part of an ongoing conversation, and most people believe that if policies are created, they should be enforced.
“It’s not an easy issue,” he said. “That’s why a committee formed right after the fact is the best way to go.”