LITCHFIELD — When temperatures soared into the low 90s on Thursday, many of Peyton Guay’s classmates at Oak Hill Middle School wore shorts.

But Peyton, a sixth-grader, was not so lucky. She was forced to wear sweatpants because she doesn’t have many pairs of shorts that conform to the school’s dress code — a set of rules that she has found increasingly annoying and sexist.

“It was hot,” Peyton, 12, said matter-of-factly of her day on Thursday.

After returning home on Thursday afternoon, Peyton had changed into an inauspicious pair of black cotton shorts. She would have been more comfortable wearing those to school, she said, but they wouldn’t have passed muster with some of her school’s educators, depending on their reading of the dress code.

That dress code now requires all shorts, dresses and skirts fall lower than a student’s fingertips when her arms are hanging straight down, but doesn’t clearly state what counts as fingertips.

That ambiguity has frustrated Peyton’s mother, Danica Gagne, who recently bought eight pairs of shorts for her daughter, only to discover that just two would clearly fall below the middle finger of her daughter, who is 5 feet, 2 inches tall and has relatively long arms. To be sure, her daughter was meeting that requirement, Gagne said she might have to buy boy’s basketball shorts or capri-style pants.

The dress code also forbids shirts with spaghetti straps, and it seems rooted in the traditional belief that women should dress modestly so as not to distract the men in their midst, Gagne said.

“It sexualizes it,” she said of those requirements. “They’re little kids. Come on.”

When Gagne shared her concerns with other parents in Regional School Unit 4 — the district made up of Litchfield, Wales and Sabattus — many agreed with her. So did the one person who might be able to make a difference: Ben Wilson, principal of Oak Hill Middle School.

“I personally feel the dress code can be sexist and would welcome a change,” Wilson wrote in response to Gagne’s May 9 comment on a Facebook page for RSU 4 parents.

Wilson invited Peyton and other students to suggest a few changes for the dress code. Over two days, that group of students collected more than 100 signatures, and their proposals will soon take effect for the middle school, said Andrew Carlton, the district’s curriculum director, who will soon replace outgoing Superintendent Jim Hodgkin. Carlton couldn’t be immediately reached for further comment Friday evening on what date the change will take effect and whether that will take place before the end of the school year.

That’s been a relief to Peyton and her mother, who have taken a cue from other girls across the country who have challenged their schools’ sartorial requirements on the grounds that they’re sexist. One day, Peyton went to class with a hashtagged message written on her arm in blue ink: #IAmMoreThanAdistraction.”

Young women across the country have been spreading similar mantras on social media platforms. In Maine, one high profile example came last month when Molly Neuner, a sixth grader at King Middle School in Portland, defied that school’s dress code by wearing a tank top to class and the words #iamnotadistraction on her arm, the Portland Press Herald reported. Earlier that week, a teacher had reprimanded Molly in front of other students for wearing a purple tank top. After meeting with her parents, the principal said the school would review the dress code at the end of the year.

At Oak Hill Middle School, the dress code currently indicates that clothing choices shouldn’t “disrupt the school climate” and lays out 12 specific guidelines. Several guidelines are preserved in the proposal made by Peyton and her classmates, such as bans on clothing that includes inappropriate language and that reveals private areas of the body.

But several specific provisions were removed. Most relevant to Gagne’s concerns about her daughter’s shorts, the finger length requirement has been replaced by a requirement that shorts extend at least 4 inches down the inseam.

Gagne supported that change, she said, because her daughter has heard mixed interpretations of the fingertip rule and would prefer a concrete, measurable length. While her daughter has not gotten in trouble for dress code violations, Gagne said the rules have made her nervous that some shorts might not pass muster.

“I don’t think it’s fair,” Gagne said of the present rules. “It’s not just about wearing uncomfortable clothing. The girls don’t want to be called out. It makes them anxious. They can’t wear sweatpants in 90-degree weather.”

The new dress code will allow shirts with spaghetti straps and cropped tops. It has also eliminated a sentence from the current dress code that bans students from wearing “clothing or hairstyles that cause a distraction to learning.”

Administrators in RSU 4 supported the students’ changes, Carlton said, because they recognize that it can be hard for some families to afford to keep replacing clothes to meet the dress code’s requirements.

He noted that the overall structure of the dress code will remain in place, including the provision that the school climate not be disrupted. He also applauded the students and principal for working together to draft the new rules.

“At the end of the day, we want to make sure we provide an environment for every student to learn,” he said.

Charles Eichacker — 621-5642

[email protected]

Twitter: @ceichacker

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