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Cathedral Catholic High School bans skirts from its dress code

These high school students will no longer be allowed to wear skirts to school.
Cathedral Catholic High School dress code
Students at Cathedral Catholic High School will no longer be allowed to wear skirts this fall. Courtesy of Carrie Wilhite
/ Source: TODAY

It's the end of the school year, and students would normally be getting ready to celebrate, but teenagers at one San Diego high school are instead protesting outside of their school.

Female students at Cathedral Catholic High School in Carmel Valley, California, recently received word that the school's dress code would be changing this fall, and they're not amused by the new clothing restrictions on their uniforms.

Starting with the 2019-2020 school year, female students will no longer be allowed to wear skirts, according to an email from school officials obtained by local NBC affiliate KNSD. Instead, girls will be required to wear pants, capri pants or Bermuda shorts.

In an email to the community, Cathedral Catholic High School principal Kevin Calkin explained the reasoning behind the new clothing restrictions: "The main challenge with dress code has been the length of girls’ skirts. The school has made many attempts to rectify this challenge. The administration has worked with the Parent Association, has issued thousands of hours of detention, has made school-wide announcements (e.g., CCTV, orientations), and has worked with students one-on-one. None of this has had the desired effect of maintaining an overall modest skirt length in compliance with the dress code."

Students have been protesting outside their school this week.
Students have been protesting outside their school this week.Courtesy of Carrie Wilhite

In response, nearly 100 students and parents began protesting outside of the school on Tuesday, and they plan to continue their efforts all week long. On Wednesday, CCHS alumni joined the protest and male students will join in later this week. The group has even started a petition and a "Save the Skirts @ CCHS" Instagram page.

Both parents and students say they're disappointed in the school's decision and the way it was communicated.

"In today's environment with #MeToo and a focus on female empowerment, it felt very demeaning and demoralizing to receive an email announcing that the school just changed the uniform policy, especially since they didn't take any parents' voices into consideration," Carrie Wilhite, whose daughter is currently a senior at the school, told TODAY Style. "We're trying to raise our girls to be strong women and have good values and we got x’ed out of the conversation."

Peyton Wilhite joined her fellow students at the protest this week.
Peyton Wilhite joined her fellow students at the protest this week.Courtesy of Carrie Wilhite

The decision to ban skirts seems sudden to parents, including Wilhite, who said the administration stopped giving out detentions at the beginning of the school year.

"It was the perfect storm, really — the unregulated skirts and the lack of detention — and I think the administration just backed off on reinforcing the dress code. The administration didn't make the effort to ask parents for help addressing the 'problem' either," she said.

And most girls wear a layer (like volleyball shorts) underneath their shorts anyway, Wilhite said: “They’re already making an attempt at modesty. We chose a faith-based school because we want to be in collaboration with our administration to train our kids and bring them up with Christian values. But at the same time, they're still high school kids."

Moms (and several dads) joined their daughters to oppose the new skirt ban.
Moms (and several dads) joined their daughters to oppose the new skirt ban.Courtesy of Carrie Wilhite

Wilhite's older daughter, a student at Georgetown University, previously attended CCHS and her son is currently a sophomore at the school as well. Although her daughter is graduating this year, Wilhite said she's still passionate about fighting the proposed dress code.

"I don’t have a daughter who will be affected by this policy, so it doesn’t affect me personally, but it does affect me because I’m a woman and both my daughters attended this school," she said. “The skirt and pants thing isn’t even the real issue. The real issue is that girls should have the ability to choose their clothing and be respected enough to make the choice and handle it at the best of their ability at the age they are.”

Gianna Repetti poses in her school skirt.
Gianna Repetti poses in her school skirt.Courtesy of Amy Repetti

Gianna Repetti, however, will be personally affected by the skirt ban and she's not excited about it.

"Skirts have been a Catholic school tradition for many years. It’s frustrating that the administration is forcing girls to wear the same uniform as the boys. Skirts are simply classy and more comfortable. They shouldn’t be eliminated altogether without any discussion," she told TODAY.

Girls will need to purchase new uniforms for the fall semester.
Girls will need to purchase new uniforms for the fall semester.Courtesy of Carrie Wilhite

Many male students at the school stand in solidarity with their female classmates on the issue, including Wilhite's son Dillon.

"I feel like the skirt ban was not needed. Most girls I know follow the rules. Punishing all the girls because of a few girls seems unfair. I feel bad for them because I know they are not excited about shorts and dressing like boys," he said.

The school's decision came quite suddenly, according to one parent.
The school's decision came quite suddenly, according to one parent.Courtesy of Carrie Wilhite

Calkin, the school's principal, told TODAY Style that uniform skirts have posed a challenge to school administrators for years.

“Starting with the next school year, we have decided to just eliminate the problem and make the standards for male and female students the same. No more skirts means no more conflict over skirt length. Period," he said. “It’s a practical solution to a problem that gets more attention than it’s worth, causes more upset feelings than it’s worth and takes away from why we have a dress code to begin with, which is to have students and faculty pay less attention to fashion and a lot more attention to issues involving faith, character and learning.”

As for the boys at CCHS? Well, they'll have a new dress code guideline to follow next year too, but a slightly minor one: a change to the allowed length of hair or facial hair.

In the meantime, many students and parents are hoping the school changes its opinion about the skirt ban.

“We have to teach our kids to speak up when something is wrong. When you break down the school's proposed dress code, it’s a sexist policy. You have to be a strong woman and stand up and have a voice,” Wilhite said.