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South Jordan • Bingham High School senior Cierra Gregersen decided to wear a friend's dress to the homecoming dance last weekend.
But the frock that passed the school's dress code last year was blocked this fall by a newly vigilant administration.
Gregersen and four of her friends were stopped at the door and told to alter their dresses with sweaters or scraps of fabric. When they refused, they were sent home.
Monday afternoon, Gregersen organized a walkout from school to protest the inconsistent enforcement. About 80 other students joined her.
Gregersen calls the school's dress code which requires slacks for boys and dresses that do not dip below the top of the armpit for girls "ridiculous." She said that enforcement has grown increasingly strict since Principal Chris Richards-Khong joined the school last year.
"We've had the same standards assembly, same Powerpoint (presentation) for the past three years that I've been here," Gregersen said. "But it's never been enforced like this before."
The principal, however, insists the students barred from the dance had ample warning.
"We try to be fair and reasonable because our objective is we want the kids in the dance," Richards-Khong said.
All those who walked out of classes Monday were considered truant, the administrator said.
On Saturday night, about two dozen students were asked to alter their dresses and suits to follow school rules. Most complied. Ultimately, five female students were turned away, the principal said.
The Bingham High walkout comes on the heels of Wasatch High School's decision to Photoshop student yearbook photos to add necklines and cap sleeves and remove a collarbone tattoo. In 2012, Stansbury High School sent dozens of students home from the homecoming dance because their attire didn't meet the school's dress code. In the end, the school held another dance free of charge two weeks later.
Gregersen said it is difficult to find a dance dress that complies with the school standards. She and most of the girls who were asked to alter their clothing were told that it was because their dresses were considered backless.
Some male students also were told to change into dress slacks after arriving in jeans.
"I'm hoping that they understand why we're so upset," Gregersen said. "We're not just being immature about it. We're saying that at a certain age, we know how to dress ourselves, and we know what's appropriate, and they shouldn't oversexualize our bodies."
The walkout started shortly before 1 p.m. and lasted for a little more than 30 minutes. Students gathered across the street from the school, but dispersed to go home after learning that they were being counted as truant from classes.
Richards-Khong said the walkout would be classified as any other unexcused absence.
"Whether it was one student or 80, we wouldn't change the rules for them," she said.
The principal said enforcement of the dress code is similar to policies at other schools she has worked at. Generally it is Bingham High School's assistant principals who deal with compliance issues.
The principal said administrators at the dance tried to work with students to identify solutions to meet the dress code. She said some girls borrowed camisoles from friends or the vests of their dates to cover their backs. In a couple of cases, pieces of fabric were given to students to make adjustments.
It was only when a student refused to comply that he or she was not allowed to enter the dance, she said.
"The effort is not to embarrass them; it's to teach them so they change the behavior," the principal said.
"We feel like we've done a good job of helping them be aware of the dress code because it's never our intention to trick them; it's to help them follow directions."
Richards-Khong said that after a stomp held earlier this year resulted in dress code compliance issues, the school's student government members and administrators took extra steps to notify the student body about the dress code ahead of Saturday's dance. Announcements were made, she said, and each ticket to the dance came with an attached copy of the school's dress policy.
Kason Eggers, a senior and student body officer, agreed that enforcement has increased this year, but he attributed it to the transition to a new administration.
"It was a different principal when we were sophomores, so it was his different rules," he said.
Student Body President Spencer Dunford said he didn't notice any issues during the dance itself and was surprised by the reaction on Monday. He said a school dance is like any other event with a dress code, and students were aware of the rules before they arrived.
"It didn't seem like that big of a deal," he said. "You get covered up and move on and have a fun time."
But Meliek Holland, a sophomore who participated in Monday's demonstration, said that dress codes are unfair and he wanted to show his support for the students who were turned away from the dance.
"I think people should be able to dress the way they want," he said.
The students plan to be back in class on Tuesday.
And Gregersen expects to talk to the high school's principal. She hopes the student protest will push changes in the dress code policy.
"I'm going to be addressing the principal because I'm sure she'll call me down anyway," the senior said. "I'm going to ask her if there's anything that can change and what we can do as students to help things change."