Rockbridge County High School students take charge of the school dress code, with new changes to come of seniors’ creativity

Students and faculty at RCHS are working together to draft a new dress code to make it more clear and lenient after demands for change


Olivia Cooper, Arts & Life Writer

Rockbridge County High School (RCHS) is in the process of changing their dress code after students expressed that they wanted a change.

Student Council Association President Elizabeth Grist has seen her school’s dress code affect her friends throughout her four years at Rockbridge County High School. Students are missing class time to change into clothes that fit rules set forth by what many at RCHS are calling an antiquated dress code.

Since last fall, Grist and her fellow Student Council Association members, along with teachers, administrators and parents, have been working hard to rewrite the dress code so that it will fit the needs of students while still maintaining a sense of professionalism in the school environment.

Grist said that while she has never been reprimanded for violating the dress code, many of her friends are frequently told to change because their clothing violates the current code.

Grist shared an experience of her friend who was wearing athletic shorts, which a teacher deemed to be out of the dress code’s requirements. Currently, the dress code requires that shorts and skirts not be more than five inches above the knee.

Student Council Association President Elizabeth Grist discusses the dress code draft with her classmate, Byron Winchester. Photo by Liv Cooper.

“She had to check out of school and go home,” Grist said. “That was first period, the beginning of the day, and she didn’t get back until third period. It took her out of a whole class period.”

Haywood Hand, assistant superintendent of Rockbridge County Schools, was the main faculty member behind the initial push to make the dress code more lenient during his time as principal at RCHS.

“The dress code has been under scrutiny for several years. Obviously, everybody has different sets of standards and interpretations of what they feel is in the best interest of students when it comes to the dress code,” Hand said. “It comes from parents, students and staff.”

As the principal, Hand met periodically with the Student Council Association to discuss current student issues and how to best solve them. Hand said students frequently wanted to discuss the dress code at these meetings.

“Several of the students kept bringing up the dress code. Could we go back and take a look at it? Can we reevaluate it? When’s the last time it’s been revised?” Hand said. “In essence, they just brought it to my attention. That’s a part of the communication between the students and administration.”

Hand said the main issue with the current version of the dress code is its vague language. This makes it difficult to properly enforce.

Hand said the current dress code also tends to disproportionately target female students, which Hand said he hopes to change in the new version.

While the current dress code requires that shorts and skirts be fewer than five inches above the knee, the proposed code instead would require hems to land at “mid-thigh” in an attempt to relax the requirements surrounding girls’ clothing.

Hand said that after discussing ideas for the new dress code, he created a draft. He then handed down  the draft to the Student Council Association to edit.

Both students and faculty hope the new guidelines will make expectations about what is permitted more clear to students.

Hand said that although he is willing to help the students revise the  dress code, he feels it is best to leave the majority of the responsibility up to them.

“The dress code is owned by the kids. They’re the ones who live by it,” Hand said.

The students also brought up the issue that some teachers were stricter in enforcing the dress code than others. Rather than create new rules about enforcement in the classroom, Hand said that he thinks the new dress code will speak for itself.

“I feel pretty confident that everybody will apply and enforce the dress code as it says,” Hand said. “It doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for interpretation.”

Current RCHS Principal Mike Craft, who took over the position following Hand’s move to assistant superintendent, has been handling the enforcement of the dress code at the school-wide level. Craft said that during his time as principal thus far, the consequences for violating the dress code have been minimal.

“We have been mainly warning kids,” Craft said. “I’ll ask them not to wear it the next day, because we know we’re getting to change all of the consequences.”

Craft acknowledged the teachers as the main enforcers of the dress code. But RCHS English Department Chair Ann Knepper said that she feels she has struggled to enforce the code.

“Honestly, sometimes it’s just not on my radar,” Knepper said. “You know, everyone’s in the classroom, sitting down, I’m focused on what we’re doing, and not really on what the students are wearing. So, for me, when I do try to be better about enforcing it, I have to make that conscious effort.”

Next year, a new wave of opinions surrounding the dress code will come to RCHS, including Lucy Satrom, a current eighth grader at Lylburn Downing Middle School in Lexington.

Satrom led the charge to rewrite the dress code at Lylburn Downing, which she said she felt unnecessarily targeted and objectified female students. Satrom said her classmates have been supportive of her efforts.

Satrom said she feels the dress code at RCHS could be even more relaxed than what was proposed in the recent draft.

“Every time I’ve been to the high school this year, I have purposely worn things that are out of their dress code,” Satrom said.

Satrom said she imagines she will become involved in rewriting future versions of the dress code at RCHS.

“I feel like we could do more,” Satrom said.

Hand, Craft and Grist said they do not know when they expect to complete the draft, but are working with parents and community members to receive as much input as possible before finalizing their revisions.

Grist said Craft’s words about the dress code and its necessesity have largely inspired her in rewriting the code.

“The dress code isn’t supposed to be something restrictive on students, but something that teaches us to respect ourselves and to start that respect for ourselves at a young age,” Grist said.