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Dress code violations handled poorly at West York school, parent says

West York Area Middle School

West York Area Middle School received some complaints Tuesday on how it handled enforcement of the school dress code.

Shawn Fink, who has 12-year-old twin girls at the school, got a text from one of her daughters around the start of the school day Tuesday, May 22, saying she needed to bring her extra shorts.

"I'm one of many," Fink remembered reading in her text.

Upon arrival at the school, Fink saw about 25 to 30 girls being held in the school's health suite for wearing shorts that were shorter than the school's policy of "at least mid-thigh" in length.

The administration confirmed the incident in a statement, saying several students were asked to report to the health suite for dress code infractions, but they admitted the situation was not handled properly.

"The District's initial investigation concluded that the students involved were safe at all times," the statement read. "However, the investigation also revealed that the manner by which the infraction was addressed was not in line with District standards."

The girls were forced to miss class — and parents were forced to miss work to bring replacement clothing — after students were "forcefully grabbed and pushed" while being escorted, Fink wrote in a Facebook post.

She saw several upset parents leave with their daughters that morning, she said.

Fink's post claims about 50 girls were involved, but the district's communications coordinator, Cindi Greco, said it was only about 25, and there was "no physical violence in any shape or form."

The district administration's first concern in hearing about it was to make sure the kids were OK, Greco said.

"No student was harmed. No student was handled in any manner," she added, explaining that a few were lightly tapped on the shoulder and shown the direction to the suite by middle school personnel checking them at the door that morning.

Not handled properly: When asked if there was a better way to handle situations like this, Greco said, "There will be," noting that the school is taking the matter seriously and reaching out to parents for feedback.

Fink said she would recommend letting the girls know in a respectful manner that their outfit is not appropriate, and if their behavior is recurring, sending them home with a note.

The girls say they were given no warning before the dress code was enforced, according to what Fink heard from her daughter, who also said she was given no explanation of why she was being ushered to the health suite on Tuesday.

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Though everyone knew there were rules, they had not gotten into trouble before, Fink said. 

Her daughter had worn shorter shorts a couple of times since the weather started getting warmer but had received no verbal or written warning for it.

"Everyone knows the speed limit, but they go with the flow of the traffic," Fink said.

The statement will be released on the school's website, but each parent of the students involved will also get a personal phone call and opportunity to share their thoughts, Greco said.

"The West York Area School District’s commitment to Every Student Every Day emphasizes treating all students with respect and dignity at all times," the statement reads. "To that end, the administration is reviewing policies and procedures to ensure a safe, healthy, and positive learning environment."

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Shaming girls: Fink's post — and other pages where it was shared — drew many comments that challenged the idea of the dress code itself.

Parents in York County and beyond, as well as former West York students, expressed their disappointment in West York for enforcing strict dress codes.

Some disagreed with the school's enforcement methods but believed a dress code was a good idea, with at least one who did not see any fault in the school for enforcing the rules.

But others saw a symptom of a larger problem present not just in West York but in other York County schools — that strict dress codes for girls perpetuate rape culture by not putting any responsibility on boys.

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Several posters expressed a desire to reach out to West York administration or go to the school board, and some had done so with other schools in the past. 

"It really struck me as being so shaming for girls," Fink said.

She said that though she's aware that some kids are dressing in a completely inappropriate way, others are not — yet they are being held to an old-fashioned standard that doesn't let them show skin for fear of being a distraction to boys.

"I’m not against some sort of dress code," she said. "I don’t know when the dress code was last updated, but it doesn’t speak to the modern era."

It's not something the school explains to students or parents, she said, but on Tuesday the school nurse told her, "We’ve had some boys making comments" about the girls' shorts, and the school is addressing that.

Greco was unaware of these comments.

Fink said her girls don’t even like boys yet, but her daughter could not go to class to learn because her shorts were too short. Others agreed that policies like this are at the expense of education.

"This is a new era for girls. The #MeToo movement has happened," Fink said. "Girls need to be girls."