WEYMOUTH – Ancient Egyptians wore flip-flops, and so did the Greeks and Romans when they ruled the Western world. But for the past decade, students at Weymouth High School have been banned from wearing the simple toe-anchored sandals — a fashion decree that three seniors are attempting to overturn.
The students hope their thesis that the slip-ons are safe, inexpensive, and unobtrusive — and allowed in most other area school districts — will have legs when they present their case this month to the Weymouth School Committee.
“As seniors we have to do a capstone project — an independent project that has a real world application,” said 18-year-old Maggie Fitzgerald. “We thought, what would be better than getting the most disliked rule in the student handbook lifted?”
The rule dates from 2004, when the School Committee decided that the toe-baring sandals posed a safety hazard to students and were “disruptive to the educational process.”
Flip-flops were added to the high school dress code’s list of inappropriate attire — which includes low-cut necklines, backless or midriff-exposing tops, excessively high heels, roller sneakers, Spandex bike pants, tank tops, hats, see-through blouses, metal-spiked belts, body and bathing suits, clothing with “racist, sexist, violent and obscene or substance (alcohol, drug) related slogans and/or symbols,” and skirts and dresses that are shorter than “the length of the longest finger tip with the arms fully extended.”
School Committee chairman Sean Guilfoyle said in a recent interview that he doesn’t see any reason to reverse the flip-flop rule. “It’s a safety issue,” he said.
Before the flip-flop ban took effect, students would trip going up and down stairs, he said. And the flimsy shoes offered no protection against work boots — a staple in the halls of Weymouth High School with its numerous vocational programs, he said. He also cited medical reports that linked the lack of foot support in flip-flops to muscle and tendon problems.
Flip-flops are “to wear in the shower and to get across the beach,” Guilfoyle said.
But he conceded that the latest attempt to lift the ban – the third flap over flip-flops in the past several years – was more professional than past efforts. “The last one basically consisted of [students] saying, ‘Come on, man, let us wear flip-flops,’ ” Guilfoyle said.
In January, the team of Fitzgerald, Talia Stokes, and Caitlin Zaslaw presented the full School Committee with a PowerPoint presentation explaining why they thought the ban should be revoked, effective next school year. Their report included a survey of 160 randomly selected Weymouth High students. Among the findings:
■ 80 percent want the flip-flop ban lifted; 90 percent of female students want the ban lifted.
■ Less than 1 percent of students reported having had a flip-flop related injury.
■ On a scale of 1 to 10 – with 10 the most dangerous – students gave the danger of wearing flip-flops a 2.
■ 89 percent of female students said they wear flip-flops five to six times a week outside of school.
To bolster their argument, the girls looked at 37 other school districts in the region and found only one – Randolph High School – that bans flip-flops. Randolph approved its policy in 2005 as a safety measure, according to officials there.
Among the districts that allow flip-flops are Braintree, Cohasset, Dedham, Hingham, Hull, Milton, Plymouth, Sharon, South Shore Technical High School in Hanover, and Quincy. The schools all have dress codes – banning such things as visible underwear, hats, sunglasses, and gang colors, but not singling out flip-flops.
The girls also argued that flip-flops are inexpensive and comfortable – and enforcing the flip-flop ban at Weymouth High School wasted teachers’ time and got “good kids in trouble.”
“It’s a pointless policy,” Stokes said.
School Committee member Tracey Nardone agreed.
“To have teachers having to look at students’ feet every day is ridiculous,” she said. “My concern is: Are kids showing up for school, are they doing their homework, are they getting the best education they can? That is more important than waging this war against flip-flops.
“I don’t think teachers should wear flip-flops, but these are students. Let them be kids and wear flip-flops to school.”
Braintree High School principal Jim Lee said his school has never considered banning flip-flops as part of the dress code that requires students to “meet normal standards of cleanliness and modesty and pose no health or safety threat to the school in a way that disrupts the academic process.”
At Plymouth North High School, school nurse Patricia Reardon said she advises students not to wear flip-flops if they’re using crutches. But “other than that, there is no ban, and I don’t see it as an overall safety issue,” she said.
“It’s not an issue here,” said Hingham High School principal Paula Girouard McCann, when asked about her school’s flip-flop policy. “I don’t know why Weymouth has gotten into a thing about flip-flops. I have enough issues. That’s not one of them.”
Weymouth isn’t the only community that has wrestled with the pros and cons of flip-flops, which date back to the early Egyptians and became popular in this country after the Second World War. (Ancient Greeks wore a version held on by a toe strap between the first and second toes; ancient Romans placed the strap between the second and third toes.)
City officials in San Juan Capistrano, Calif., faced criticism in the fall of 2013 when they posted rules banning humans from wearing flip-flops in a new dog park. The signs came down soon afterward, a city spokesman said. And school officials in Brooksville, Fla., responded to complaints by reversing a yearlong flip-flop ban in 2006.
Students in New Haven, Conn., signed a petition in 2010 to overturn a flip-flop ban at a local high school, about the same time that students at a Tennessee high school took similar action. Students at Kaposvar University in Hungary went further – protesting a 2013 ban on flip-flops, miniskirts, and heavy makeup by showing up for class with nothing on.
The controversy hit the White House in 2005 when some members of the Northwestern University national championship women’s lacrosse team drew harsh criticism for wearing flip-flops to meet President Barack Obama – who became the first US president to be photographed wearing flip-flops while vacationing in Hawaii in 2011.
The invention of the modern flip-flop itself is controversial, with New Zealand histories giving credit to either Morris Yock – who patented the plastic version of the design in 1957 – or to John Cowie, who allegedly was making them since the late 1940s.
Fitzgerald said she was shocked to learn that not all high schools banned flip-flops. “I thought it was a nationwide thing because I had grown up with it – until my sister’s boyfriend, who is from Maryland, heard about it and he was amazed,” she said.
She said that if the School Committee votes to allow flip-flops next school year, it won’t affect her or Stokes and Zaslaw, since they are graduating. “But it would be awesome,” Fitzgerald said.
The School Committee’s policy review subcommittee has scheduled a hearing on the request to revoke Weymouth’s flip-flop ban for March 19 at 6:30 p.m. in the school administration building.
Nardone said it’s time to reverse the rule, and get to other, more important things.
“I’m tired of flip-flops,” she said. “Let’s find more money for books and smaller classes. There’s so much more on the plate that we should be dealing with. Let’s move on.”
Johanna Seltz can be reached at email@example.com.