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Strapless-dress ban upheld in New Jersey school

May 03, 2013|By Tina Susman

The straps have it.

A New Jersey school board has ruled that eighth-grade girls attending a dance next month must wear dresses with straps -- or at least one strap -- ending a debate that raised allegations of sexism, led to a school principal being threatened, and forced the cancellation of another dance. 

The decision Wednesday night in Readington Township, about 60 miles west of New York City, was not without drama. The township's school board heard more than an hour of testimony from parents and would-be fashion police, and it cast three votes before reaching a decision, according to the New Jersey Star-Ledger.

The eight-member board tied twice on whether to support the middle school principal's ban on strapless dresses for girls attending the June event. It eventually approved a compromise motion that would, in the words of the school board, permit dresses with "at least a single or clear or spaghetti strap to reduce the risk of a wardrobe malfunction." 

Readington Middle School Principal Sharon Moffat's decision last month to ban strapless dresses at the annual dance provoked anger from some parents and pupils, who said part of her reasoning -- that strapless dresses might distract boys -- smacked of sexism. The ban sends the message "that no matter how women are dressed, it's their fault when something happens to them, and that is appalling," said one parent, Harry Nijenhuis, at a school board meeting last month attended by dozens of parents and TV news crews.

Other parents and some pupils said many girls already had bought strapless dresses for the dance, or had planned on wearing strapless dresses handed down by older sisters who had attended the event in years past, before the dress code was altered.

Not all parents objected to the strapless-gown ban. Some said the principal was simply establishing a dress code that would protect girls from wardrobe malfunctions and that pupils and their parents needed to respect authority.

But after the heated testimony at the April meeting, school board officials scheduled Wednesday's special session to reconsider their support of Moffat's rule. 

Days after the original ruling was imposed, the Readington school board had to cancel a dance set for late April after an email threat was sent to Moffat, who became Readington Middle School's principal less than a year ago. School board officials did not give details of the threat, and police did not believe it was credible, but the dance was canceled as a precaution. 

Local media reported that girls who already have purchased dresses that don't meet the strap requirement will have to alter their outfits or buy new ones. 

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