Utah principal apologizes after dance hemline debacle
Stansbury Park • A Tooele County principal apologized to students Monday after educators turned away dozens of girls from their weekend homecoming dance, deeming their dresses too short.
As many as half of those who arrived to the Stansbury High dance ended up not going in after their dates and friends were barred from entering, students said Monday. In many cases, those who were stopped had dresses ending one or two inches above their knees.
"It was upsetting," said Callie Orcutt, 16, one of those who was told she couldn't attend the event Saturday night. Callie wore a black dress that hung about two inches above her knees, and she covered her shoulders with a small, orange jacket. "I wanted to dance."
Over the weekend, hundreds of outraged students and parents weighed in with comments and photos on a Facebook page titled "Stansbury High Homecoming Spirit Massacre." On Monday, Stansbury High principal Kendall Topham held four assemblies, one for each grade level, where he apologized that the school's policy wasn't more clear and pledged to hold another free dance to make up for homecoming.
The problem, he said, stemmed from overly vague language about dress code in the school's student handbook. The handbook states dresses for formal events should be "at or near knee length," leaving room for interpretation. He said the school will work in coming weeks with student leaders, staff and the school community council to make the policy more specific so everyone has the same expectations for the next dance.
"I apologized that there wasn't better clarification," Topham said. "I apologized that we had those who came thinking they were meeting the standard and doing what they were supposed to who still got turned away, and it being a very disheartening, sorrowful night of sadness and frustration."
Topham said about two dozen girls were stopped at the door Saturday night. The incident had already garnered some national attention as of Monday afternoon.
A number of parents said Monday they were pleased to hear of the apology, calling the school's reaction to the teens' dresses over-the-top.
Some parents, including Michael Johnson, actually went to the school Saturday night after their kids called them to tell them they had been shut out. Johnson, whose daughter was turned away, said he doesn't have a problem with the school having a policy, but he said the policy was too vague.
Johnson's daughter wore a black dress with ruffles ending about an inch above her knee. The family actually paid to get the dress lengthened before the dance to make sure it would meet the school's requirements.
"This isn't like these girls were dressing immodestly," Johnson said. "You've got a vague policy, but then you've got to use some common sense and judgement."
Ultimately, Johnson's daughter went home, put on leggings, and then was allowed to enter, he said. Johnson said even the homecoming queen was initially turned away.
Natalee Stewart, whose daughter was stopped and whose son decided not to go in after his date was turned away, said it's difficult as a parent to even find dresses that cover the knee, given current styles. She also said that some of the dress code requirements seem almost like religious impositions.
"I understand rules, I think there should be rules," Stewart said, "but they need to be realistic."
A number of students said Monday they were disappointed when they couldn't enter the dance. Some students went home, others tried to hold a makeshift dance in the school parking lot and others went to restaurants like The Cheesecake Factory at Fashion Place Mall. Some students wore their "too short" dresses to school Monday in protest.
"We bought dresses, got ready and had a great day, and then we couldn't get in, and it was a bummer," said Alex Putnam, 17, who was prohibited from entering because, she said, her black and pink dress ended about an inch above her knee. She said school officials later changed their minds and decided to let her in, and then changed their minds again and told her to leave.
A number of students also decried what they said seemed like inconsistent enforcement, noting that some girls were stopped because of hemlines an inch above their knees but others who showed skin on top were allowed to enter.
Many also said Monday they're not excited about the idea of attending a make-up dance, noting that they'd already spent money on things like dinner and limos that they can't get back.
Plus, it won't really be a homecoming dance, some said.
"It wouldn't be the same," said Darius Johnson, 18, whose date was also turned away.
Rachel Robins' son and his date were allowed into the dance Saturday night, but still, she said, they lost the opportunity to experience homecoming with all their friends. She said school officials sent a disturbing message with their actions.
"The message that you're sending to these girls is instead of empowering them and educating them and helping them to feel strong and confident and secure," Robins said, "you're taking their confidence and you instill in them a message that they're immoral when they're not."
See the dresses
To see more of the dresses and comments from parents and students go to http://www.facebook.com/stansburyhighhomecomingspiritmassacre.