In praise of modesty: Diocesan schools update dress code

Students, faculty get revised rules on appropriate attire; all eighth-graders to wear gowns at graduation   

Notre Dame High School student Jay Nguyen reads to students at Our Lady of Perpetual Help School in Chattanooga during Catholic Schools Week 2012. Diocesan students and school faculty and staff will be following an updated dress code policy for the 2012-13 school year. Many students already are in compliance with the policy. Also, most all faculty and staff, not just religion teachers, will be trained in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which is a new diocesan requirement.
Photo courtesy of Gayle Schoenborn

“Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.”
— 1 Peter 3:3-4

As students and staff at Diocese of Knoxville schools settle into a new school year, they’re adjusting to a renewed emphasis on modesty when it comes to attire.
Over the summer, Bishop Richard F. Stika and Sister Mary Marta Abbott RSM, diocesan schools superintendent, issued a letter to all parents and guardians of diocesan school students advising them that an updated policy is taking effect regarding blouses, shirts, skirts, skorts, and shorts.

Beginning with the 2012-13 school year, all girls and boys blouses and shirts must be buttoned, with the exception of the top button. All skirts, skorts and shorts should be no shorter than the width of a dollar bill (2 ¾ inches) above the knee. Some schools already require uniforms to be knee-length.

Sister Mary Marta acknowledges that many students already comply with the school uniform requirement but points out that the only way to keep school uniforms, well, uniform so that hemlines, tops, shoes, and accessories comply is to reinforce the policy.

“After observing students throughout this past school year, especially middle and high school students, it became obvious that a review of the current diocesan policy was needed,” according to the letter issued June 11 by Bishop Stika and the superintendent.

The updated diocesan policy is included in the Parent/Student Handbook given out at the beginning of the school year. The advisory letter was issued in June to give parents and guardians ample time to acquire uniforms in compliance with the policy.

“Modesty is part of our faith and faith is the primary reason for students to attend our Catholic schools,” Sister Mary Marta said. “We want to make it a positive thing. It’s important that our students be a public witness in schools.”

The updated dress code also will apply to graduation ceremonies.
All students graduating from diocesan middle and high schools next spring will wear graduation gowns. While high school seniors already wear caps and gowns during commencement and some middle schools also have adopted the practice, all graduating eighth-graders will wear gowns.

“It gives a real sense of continuity. I was able to attend all the graduations of eighth grades and seniors. With the eighth-graders, some wear gowns and some don’t,” Sister Mary Marta said.
She said eighth-grade graduations where gowns weren’t required had wide variations of dress, some bordering on inappropriate, which pointed to the need for graduation gowns that offer a uniform appearance.

Students aren’t the only ones facing a dress-code update.

“It gives a real sense of continuity. I was able to attend all the graduations of eighth grades and seniors. With the eighth-graders, some wear gowns and some don’t”
— Sister Mary Marta Abbott

Sister Mary Marta said diocesan schools faculty and staff are role models for students and should dress accordingly, which prompted updated guidelines for dress beginning with the school year.
According to the adult dress code, women faculty and staff should wear neat and tailored blouses and shirts that aren’t tight and should not show cleavage or have gaping armholes. No undergarments should be visible.

Also, pants should be neat and professional in appearance and jeans should not be worn. Shorts aren’t considered appropriate professional attire either.

Similar to the student dress code, dresses and skirts worn by faculty and staff should be of modest and conservative cut with a length no shorter than the width of a dollar bill (2 ¾ inches) above the knee. Individual schools have discretion to have knee-length requirements.

Faculty and staff can no longer wear backless shoes, including sandals and flip-flops. They also can no longer wear tennis shoes except for physical education teachers and coaches.
No more than one pair of earrings may be worn and no tattoos can be visible under any circumstances.

Dress-code updates specific to male faculty and staff include shirts like dress shirts, oxfords and polos that must be neat and professional in appearance and tucked in.
Men must follow the same rules as women regarding pants and shorts, shoes, and tattoos. Men aren’t allowed to wear any pierced jewelry.

“Faculty may ‘dress down’ on days when students have out-of-uniform privileges and on other designated days, but the guidelines for modesty still apply,” the superintendent said.
She said all diocesan principals approved the faculty/staff dress code update.

“It’s about being professional and being a role model,” Sister Mary Marta said.

In addition, she said almost all faculty and staff, Catholic and non-Catholic, must go through training on the catechesis, with two in-service days being devoted to catechetical instruction.
The instruction will be part of an Aquinas College program, according to Sister Mary Marta.

“All of our religion teachers have gone through it. We can integrate our faith throughout the day with this instruction,” she added. “As we evangelize our students, we need to share our faith and grow in our faith.”

Faculty/staff catechetical training is scheduled for Oct. 15 in Chattanooga and Oct. 26 in Knoxville for the Knoxville and Tri-Cities school employees.

Sister Mary Marta said diocesan schools are complying with Common Core State Standards, which have been adopted in 45 states including Tennessee.

The curriculum standards emphasize core subjects, and were developed in collaboration with teachers, school administrators, and experts, to provide a framework to prepare students for college and the work force.

“We meet all the standards but we’re making sure we go beyond that,” the superintendent said.

“My hope is to have a curriculum where we’re all on the same pace. That will take time,” she noted.

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