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Rockville student’s dress code violation stokes debate over wearing tights as pants

Last month, it was the uproar over Lululemon’s see-through yoga pant. This week, its a fashion fight over leggings and long (or not-long-enough) shirts.

A Rockville High School student’s dress code violation Wednesday has reignited debate over a current fashion trend among young women: Are tights pants?

Freshman student Laura Kjellman was asked to put on an oversized T-shirt at school on April 3 after Principal Debra Munk told her the peach-colored sweater she was wearing wasn’t long enough.

The high school’s dress code policy specifically says “leggings or stockings worn as pants” are not permitted.”

The school asked Kjellman’s mom, Genevieve Woche, to bring her daughter another outfit, but Woche refused.

“There was nothing wrong with the clothes she was in,” Woche said.

Laura’s 77-year-old grandmother brought the pants on a shopping trip with Laura.

Woche said Laura’s sweater covered her daughter’s buttocks, and the leggings were opaque. Woche said the principal objected because the shirt didn’t extend past Laura’s fingertips, which aren’t specifically outlined in the rules.

Woche said school administrators pulled her 15-year-old daughter out of class and wouldn’t permit her to return unless she continued wearing the oversized men’s T-shirt or change into something else. Given those choices, Woche chose to take her daughter home.

Montgomery County schools spokesman Dana Tofig said there isn’t a districtwide dress code. Instead, each school is allowed to set its own rules to provide each campus flexibility.

Last month, Munk sent a message telling parents and students that the school was going to strictly enforce particular rules when classes resumed after spring break on Wednesday, Tofig said. Rules included limiting cellphone use, not wearing hats in class, and dressing appropriately.

“She had announced they were going to be a little more stringent about the rules because inappropriate dress becomes more of an issue as it gets warmer,” Tofig said. “There were some female students who were dressed inappropriately and were asked to call home and get something else. No one was told to go home.”

Woche said she’s considering legal action against the school system for discrimination against her tall daughter, who is 5 feet, 11 inches tall and has difficulty finding shirts that go past her fingertips. She’s upset because Rockville High School’s dress code is stricter than others around the county.

The debate isn’t about how girls are dressed at school, but a lack of uniformity in the rules, Woche said.

But Woche’s crusade on her daughter's behalf is sure to stoke more fights over whether wearing tights as pants is a fashion faux pas.

“I understand not dressing provocatively at school,” Woche said. “No cleavage, tight tops or belly buttons showing. But leggings are a part of every girl’s wardrobe in this day and age. As long as they aren’t see through, it’s not a problem.”

It’s not a problem unique to principals and parents in Montgomery County schools. Last winter, the principal of Frankenmuth High School in Michigan banned female students from wearing tights as pants, saying there’s “no place for sexy at school,” reported one of the local news outlets.

In January, a school in Canada also implemented a rule that doesn’t allow students to wear yoga pants, leggings and tights as pants.

Lynh Bui is a Prince George's County public safety reporter and former Montgomery County education reporter.

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