The midday sun beat onto junior Michelle Quach as she walked home from Mesa’s Westwood High School in a short jean skirt and green T-shirt.
"It’s Arizona," the 17-year- old said, squinting in the sunlight. "It’s hot."
Warmer temperatures have begun to dictate fashion choices — and heat up debate over dress codes.
Prompted by parents’ complaints, the Mesa Unified School District will consider this summer whether to strengthen policies that govern what students can wear to school.
While some districts have a detailed districtwide dress code, Mesa offers a general policy that individual schools strengthen with their own specific rules. That has led to competing e-mails sent to board members — from parents who want stricter rules, even uniforms, to those who think their schools are becoming too harsh.
"We are looking at what our dress code is at each of the individual schools, to see if we can offer any support for our principals," said governing board member Cindi Hobbs. "I don’t know what extreme we would go to. I think we want to put more meat in our policy though."
Across the East Valley, dress codes vary among districts and campuses.
John Biera, principal of Scottsdale’s Coronado High School, said the key to restricting distractions on campus is to educate students on what they can wear. As in many other schools, Coronado students who don’t wear appropriate clothing are given a T-shirt to wear or must change.
Biera said the fight never ends when there is a mix of high temperatures and revealing clothes on store racks.
"This time of year with the hot weather — you have spaghetti straps, midriffs, and then for the boys probably the advertising on the shirts that’s not allowed," Biera said, "and obviously the sagging of the pants."
Mesa High School, which bans a range of things from spaghetti straps to bare midriffs, this year began to improve tracking of violations, principal Pete Lesar said.
A first offense gets a warning, with lunch detentions as the consequence for a second offense and the possibility of Saturday school by the fourth offense.
"Like many things we have to do, dress code needs to be a priority," Lesar said.
Mesa’s Skyline High School turned some heads this year with a similar new policy that teachers say has resulted in less bare skin. The policy is more specific, outlining prohibited wear including white "wife-beater T-shirts" and prohibiting gang-colored rags and beer advertisements on shirts.
The policy is enforced by having students sign agreements when caught on their first offense, said school liaison Ellie Rael.
Other districts and schools tend to offer similar dress codes, but in many cases local control leads to a wide variety of specific detail, based on a school’s given community.
For instance, at Mesa’s Carson Junior High School, principal Bob Crispin prides himself on having one of the most strict dress codes, where female students must wear sleeves.
Several schools are using the students themselves to model good behavior. At Skyline, a poster shows students demonstrating good and bad wear. On most mornings, a dress code check is called to allow teachers to check attire before classes begin. At Red Mountain High School, a student-made video was played at the beginning of the school year featuring students who were correctly dressed and those who weren’t.
Many schools Valleywide are seeking uniforms — which sometimes leads to battles with parents who argue students should be able to express themselves with their fashion sense. A recent state law allows schools to require uniforms with their district’s permission.
The Chandler Unified School District governing board voted 4-1 on Wednesday in favor of requiring blue pants and white polo shirts at San Marcos Elementary School beginning next school year.
"They are creating a school culture where all the students identify with each other as a team," said board member Karen Clark.
At Westwood, Quach scoffed at the rule that girls cannot wear spaghetti straps to school — after she’d been warned when one fell down her shoulder.
"They focus way too much on the kind of straps we wear," she said. But, she added, "If we had uniforms, I wouldn’t care."