Prom dress brouhaha at Shelton High

Upset student: ‘They turned it into a big deal’

Jessica Florczak and many of her fellow Shelton High students are confused about why school officials decided to ban certain dresses from the prom.

Shelton School Supt. Freeman Burr speaks to the press, with Shelton school board President Mark Holden standing behind him. (Photos by Brad Durrell)

Shelton School Supt. Freeman Burr speaks to the press, with Shelton school board President Mark Holden standing behind him. (Photos by Brad Durrell)

“There’s no reason for this,” said Jessica, a junior. “They turned it into a big deal and now it’s chaotic.”

Jessica plans to attend the prom on Saturday, and the original dress she selected was approved by school officials.

But she is concerned about female students whose dresses have been deemed inappropriate. “Girls are devastated,” Jessica said. “They bought these beautiful dresses they now aren’t allowed to wear.”

She is particularly worried about those who might be turned away at the door at the prom due to what they are wearing.

“They won’t go home,” but instead will find somewhere else to spend time unsupervised, and this could lead to problems, Jessica said.

 

‘I don’t think it’s fair’

Crissy Loyola, another SHS junior, purchased her dress two months ago and her mom was involved in the process. School officials initially told her it wasn’t appropriate, but then she was told it was acceptable.

While her own situation has now become less stressful, she sympathizes with other students who received different answers.

“I don’t think it’s fair to them,” said Crissy, explaining that the SHS student handbook’s dress code section is very vague. She also noted that SHS holds a Mr. Student Body contest in which male students go shirtless on stage. “That’s not fair,” she said.

 

‘I don’t why they are doing this’

Rayanne Aidibe, also an SHS junior, had her dress approved but still is upset about the situation. She spent about six weeks to find the right prom dress.

“I don’t why they are doing this,” said Rayanne, adding school officials should have spelled out the policy in detail months ago and then sent regular reminders to students.

Rayanne said it appears “the strictest teachers” have been put in charge of deciding what can be worn.

“Some of the girls who have been told ‘no’ are crying,” Rayanne said. “Their parents are getting involved. It’s not right.”

 

PA announcement

The brouhaha over prom dresses began last Friday, when Headmaster Beth Smith made a PA announcement in school on the dress code for the prom. The announcement came eight days before the junior/senior prom, being held May 16 at Oakdale Theater in Wallingford.

Upset students said the rules had never been that specific before, pointing out girls had already selected and paid for their dresses and purchased their $90 prom tickets.

Shelton-ShsLogoSmallSchool Supt. Freeman Burr said the issue came up when some female students began sharing photos of their dresses with staff.

“A handful were considered inappropriate, too revealing and overexposed,” Burr said. “That is when the decision was made by [Beth Smith] to … reiterate the appropriate dress guidelines.”

An advisory staff of SHS female teachers and administrators was established to decide what dresses are and aren’t acceptable. Burr said only a handful of dresses have been considered inappropriate.

The SHS prom dresses controversy attracted a lot of media attention, including from statewide and New York City TV stations and even The New York Times.

On Monday, Burr held a press conference at SHS to give the school system’s side of the story. “We just want all of those attending to have a safe and memorable evening,” he said. “I really don’t see what’s wrong with that, or why this has turned into what some are calling a controversy.”

 

Guidelines

Burr said the student handbook, given to all students at the start of the academic year, includes guidelines for appropriate dress. He said the prom permission form includes a reference to proper attire as well.

The handbook’s guidelines make no reference to the prom but state that shirts and blouses “must reach the waistline and no midriff is to be exposed.” The guidelines ban items such as strapless tops, see-through lace tops, spaghetti strap tank tops, mesh tank tops and short miniskirts.

School Supt. Freeman Burr interacts with media representatives outside Shelton High School on the prom dress issue.

School Supt. Freeman Burr interacts with media representatives outside Shelton High School on the prom dress issue.

“Obviously,” Burr said, “we understand that prom attire is different from what students wear to school on a daily basis, but what we will not allow are dresses that are considered to overexpose one’s body,” he said.

The prom permission form includes the following language: “Appropriate formal dress and behavior are expected. Students dressed inappropriately will not be allowed into the dance and there will be no refund.”

The district has received support for its approach from parents, students and community members, according to Burr.
Students said some of the dresses being banned have cut-outs, exposed backs and low V-necks.

 

‘Perfect prom’

About 550 students are expected to attend the prom, with more than half of them being female.

“We don’t want to turn anyone away at the door,” Burr said.
Jessica Florczak said she expects to have a great time at the prom, but all the controversy has taken its toll. “It was supposed to be the perfect prom,” she said.

She thinks school officials should have handled matters differently. “If parents or guardians are fine with these dresses, then what is the problem?” Jessica said.

Crissy Loyola agreed. “There can be concerns about certain dresses, but they took it too far,” she said.

 

 

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