Every once in a while, local news will report on an outraged student and parents who get booted from a public school dance because of inappropriate attire, with general clucking of tongues about either the appalling taste shown or the trauma of a ruined teenage experience. One Catholic school tried to head off the problem by requiring its young women to submit pictures to the school ahead of time for pre-approval of prom dresses — and discovered that the clucking of tongues simply can’t be avoided. Delone Catholic High School finds itself at the center of controversy in Pennsylvania, with some parents accusing it of unfairness, while others want more enforcement of standards.

With all of the horrible news going on overseas, this is my idea of a palate cleanser. Let the food fight begin!

Delone Catholic high school in McSherrystown Pa. warned its female students they must submit a photo of their prom dress to be pre-approved by faculty before the May 1 dance. The plan states that gowns may not be extremely short, have an extremely low cut front or back, or be “inappropriately revealing.” Girls who show up in un-approved attire would be turned away at the door.

“I think it’s a little ridiculous,” Margaret Eser, whose daughter is attending Delone’s prom, told the York Daily Record.

The policy, which was put in place on March 1, raised concerns for students who had already purchased dresses for the dance.

“I honestly think it’s unfair,” Delone senior Dominique Dockins told the paper.

The school says they warned both students and teachers last year:

Although the pre-approval requirement for gowns is new for Delone Catholic, the principles guiding the dress code have been the same for decades, said Principal Maureen Thiec.

School officials drafted a written dress code for formal and semi-formal events in September, according to a release from administrators. In March, they added additional requirements specific to prom, including the requirement that girls have their dresses pre-approved.

The release also quotes a memorandum of understanding signed by parents at the beginning of the school year. In signing that form, parents acknowledge that the “Catholic identity of the school is the fundamental priority.”

Many parents and students, though, say they were not aware of any policies prior to the March announcement. Some also raised concerns about the vagueness of the dress code’s wording.

Which would be worse — asking permission ahead of time, or getting turned away at the door? The former creates some ambiguity for teens, as the dresses may not be available by the time permission gets granted, but they could at least mitigate against that by applying some common sense about what would be appropriate for a Catholic school event. The latter doesn’t allow for any mitigation, and would create a lot more hard feelings … and news stories, too.

Delone’s process seems intended to give teens an opportunity to avoid the worse outcome, while standing firm on its mission to provide Catholic formation through education. This process appears more than fair even for public schools, which also have dress codes (although they may differ somewhat from those of parochial schools), but in the case of religious-based education, it’s almost a no-brainer. The pushback from parents is puzzling; if they didn’t want to have Catholic formation for their children’s education, why are they paying considerable amounts of money for it?

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