HAVERHILL — When is a girl's skirt too short? When a school official says it is, even without having to measure.
Nettle Middle School sixth-grader Arianna Bouchicas headed to school yesterday morning unaware that the clothes she wore would land her in the principal's office, along with more than a dozen other students. School officials said she and other students broke the rule and were asked to change their clothing.
Yesterday's warm weather offered Arianna a chance to wear a "skort," which is a short skirt with shorts underneath. Her mother, Susan Bouchicas, said she inspected her daughter's attire before she headed to school to make sure it wasn't distasteful or provocative.
"I have three daughters and I'd never send them to school looking trashy," Bouchicas said, adding that she has requested her daughter be moved from Nettle to another school.
Arianna, 12, said she was returning from morning recess when Nettle's assistant principal, Renata Bateman, asked her to go to the school nurse's office and have her mother bring her another outfit.
"I felt like my outfit was fine," Arianna said. "My assistant principal said it wasn't allowed."
Bateman said the school dress code bans skirts that are too short and that Arianna's outfit broke the rule.
"I knew right away when I saw her thighs that it was just too short," Bateman said.
Bateman said the school policy states, that with a student's hands by her sides, the skirt must be below the student's middle finger. But Batemen said a skirt can be considered too short even without having to take a measurement.
"Students can drop the skirt down to meet the school policy then they can hike it back up to where it is not acceptable," Bateman said.
Bouchicas said her daughter had worn a similar outfit to Golden Hill Elementary School last year without any problem.
Arianna said she can't understand why she was asked to change her outfit.
"I feel like it met the school policy of fingertip length," she said.
Bateman said the school dress code is meant to prevent any distraction from learning.
"When you have kids that come in with unbelievably short skirts, even though a skort has shorts underneath, we just don't want it to be a distraction," she said. "Boys tend to look if a girl is dressed seductively — and it takes away from time on learning."
Arianna was one of more than a dozen Nettle students who wore objectionable clothing, according to school officials. Bateman said Arianna's mother was the only parent to complain to her.
"She was the only parent that was upset," Bateman said. "Other students wore capri shorts, which some rolled up too high, and four girls had skirts that were just too short. Their parents came by and dropped off more appropriate clothing."
Bouchicas said she went to the school, argued with Bateman about her daughter's outfit, then took her daughter home.
"I don't want her attending the Nettle any longer," Bouchicas said. "I've asked the superintendent to transfer her to another middle school."
"I'd be happy to go to another school," Arianna said.
Superintendent Raleigh Buchanan said he met with Arianna and her mother and told them principals have the right to regulate their school's dress code.
"It is expected that Haverhill students be dressed appropriately while in school and not dress in a manner that is disruptive to the educational process or the environment of the school," Buchanan said. "I told them I would not comment on the outfit. The principal already made that decision."
Bouchicas insists that her daughter's outfit did adhere to Nettle's dress code.
"I really didn't see a need for her to change her outfit," Bouchicas said.
Bateman said the dress code issue pops up every spring when the weather turns warm and students dress in a way that can be considered distracting. She said girls are the more frequent offenders, although some boys also break the dress code rule by wearing their pants too low.
"We don't want to be looking at the color of someone's boxers," Bateman said.
She said girls break the rules with attire such as capri pants they roll up too high and halter tops that are too revealing.
Flip-flops aren't allowed at the Nettle for safety reasons, and pajama bottoms are banned as well.
"You can dress as you like when you are out of school," Bateman said. "But parents need to back us up on this. We can't lose time on learning."
Nettle Middle School dress policy
With her hands by her side, a girl's skirt must be below the middle finger.
No pajama bottoms.
No halter tops.
No exposed underwear, such as boxer shorts.
Tank top straps on girls must be three-fingers in width or more.
JUMP PG BOX
Haverhill district dress code policy
Clothing, footwear and hair should conform to reasonable standards for health, safety and cleanliness.
Students are not allowed to dress in a manner that is disruptive to the educational process or environment of the school.
Students who do not comply with the dress code must arrange for their own transportation home to make necessary changes in clothing.
Body piercing must be covered by the student during recess, physical education class, and intramural activities so as to assure their physical safety and well-being during the school day.
SOURCE: The school district student handbook for kindergarten to grade eight