AMERICAN FORK -- An American Fork High School student was told Friday by a Lone Peak High School employee that she would have to cover her semi-formal dress to meet the school’s dress code.
Gabi Finlayson, 16, had bought the dress during winter holiday break in Paris specifically for the Lone Peak High School Preference Dance at the Thanksgiving Point Show Barn.
“She saw that one on the rack and said, ‘Mom, this is so beautiful, this is perfect,’ ” said her mother, Kristy Kimball.
The problem? The dress straps met the two-inch wide code, but there were no sleeves, said John Patten, Alpine School District spokesman.
“In my opinion and in others that dress is perfectly fine,” Gabi said. “I don’t think that girls showing their shoulders is unacceptable.”
The school bought little black shrugs for girls to wear if their dress was not in compliance with the dress code at a dance.
“In fact, the principal told me they had nearly 1,200 kids at the dance and they only had four who didn’t meet the dress code, and that is pretty good for that many kids,” Patten said.
He said that from his understanding in speaking with LPHS Principal Rhonda Bromley, Gabi decided to wear one of the shrugs provided.
“She chose to do that and she wasn’t turned away,” Patten said. “So she participated in the dance.”
Gabi’s mother disagreed.
“She was not told about that; she was asked if she had a shawl or coat she could put on,” Kimball said. “No one offered her a shrug and even if they had, the dress met the dress code.”
Her daughter said she decided to get her winter coat out of the car so she could go to the dance.
Gabi said she felt ashamed and noticed other girls were allowed in with similar dress code violations.
“If you have a dress code apply it uniformly,” Kimball said. “I think there is significant ambiguity in the code.”
At issue is the sleeve requirement, item No. 10 in the school’s dress code: “Formals, backless dresses and/or tops may not extend beyond the bottom of the shoulder blades. Girls’ dresses and tops must have a 2″ minimum strap on each shoulder ... ”
“All it says in the handbook is that if it’s two-inches wide it’s fine,” Kimball said. “Why say that if a sleeve is required?”
Perhaps someone confused dress code item No. 7 with item No. 10: “All tops, (shirts, blouses, dresses, P.E. attire), must have sleeves that cover the shoulders and underarms. Wide straps do not constitute sleeves.”
If that is the case, Kimball asked, why aren’t the cheerleaders or drill team members wearing sleeves?
School administration, school councils and the parent PTA review the dress code annually and with the students, Patten said.
“The wisdom in that is it ensures that there is a community standard that they can all live with and the community can support,” he said. “The dress code at Lone Peak High School is a reasonable thing and not extreme.
"And wow, what a great thing that is to have expectations for dress. It’s a good thing to have a dress code.”
Kimball, an attorney at Kimball Legal Law Firm in Lehi, said there is significant ambiguity in the code.
“If you think everyone should wear sleeves, you need to make that clear,” she said.
She thinks she has a legal case, she said.
“I think we have a separation of church and state for a reason,” Kimball said. “I don’t think that the dress code reflects the standards of a community.”
Instead, it reflects a minority view of a majority religion in the community, she said.
“The blame and shame should be upon the people who have such a radical viewpoint," she said.
Her daughter transferred from Lone Peak High School to American Fork High School to get away from the culture at the school.
“It’s really tough on kids there,” Kimball said, adding that the culture at AFHS is more relaxed and accepting.
Gabi said she felt pressure at LPHS to be perfect.
“The expectations were unrealistic,” Gabi said. “Lone Peak has an expectation that you have to be a certain way to fit in, and if you don’t it’s hard to be accepted by your peers.”
She said people should be accepting and portray the idea to others that they are beautiful and they don’t need to be any more than they already are.
The preference dance was the last commitment she had at Lone Peak, and while the memory of the dance and the incident with her dress may not be perfect, the junior has walked away with a lesson learned.
“No matter what you do or what you think, there are always other people who will say you are not good enough,” Gabi said. “What really matters is what you think of yourself.”