When McKeesport Area School District implemented a strict new dress code at the beginning of the school year, students weren't thrilled.
"It was not wanted at all," said Theresa Kulasa, 17, of Coulter.
Theresa is a senior at McKeesport Area High School and serves on the district's dress code committee, which takes complaints and suggestions from students and presents them to the school board for consideration.
Now that the policy has been in place for a few months, Theresa said the new code is "very manageable," and students go along with it because they are required to do so.
The dress code contains a variety of new requirements, but it essentially mandates a uniform: Students must wear black, blue or brown pants (or, for girls, knee-length skirts, shorts or capri pants) with collared shirts in solids, stripes or plaids, and dress shoes.
But there's still one big sticking point: cargo pants. For both girls and boys, pants that have more than four pockets are banned.
Theresa and the other students on the dress code committee are trying to sway school board members to allow cargo pants and shorts in future amendments to the policy.
Students would like to see some other restrictions relaxed, but the committee decided not to push too many issues at one time, said Daniel Stepansky, a 17-year-old senior from McKeesport.
High school principal Mark Holtzman said the dress code was implemented to "take the next step" in building the district's reputation by getting a handle on the dress code and discipline at the same time.
Students are largely complying with the new code, he said, but officials have to deal with a few students each day "who are just missing the boat with either the bottoms or the tops."
Extra clothes are kept on hand in the office for kids to change into and get back to class. Mr. Holtzman said he hasn't had to discipline many students for violating the dress code.
"They've adapted to the policy," he said. "They've done exactly what we hoped they would."
Theresa said the student response to the policy was "very surprising."
"I thought it'd be complete defiance," she said.
Daniel agreed, saying the district did a good job of implementing the policy. Plus, he said, leveling the playing field in terms of how students dress has been good for morale.
"The general attitude of the student body seems to be a bit more relaxed," he said.
District spokeswoman Kristen Giran said the dress code holds students accountable and gives them an idea of how to dress when they have careers.
"It gives the students something to get up and look forward to when they dress up and they know that going to school is something to be proud of," she said.
Mr. Holtzman said a dress-down day was held the Friday before homecoming weekend, and district officials look to implement dress-down days as an incentive for good behavior.
Theresa said the committee has considered holding dress-down days for charitable causes in the future, but financial contributions won't be mandatory; the committee wanted to be sensitive to students' varying financial situations.
Students and officials appear to agree on one thing: Everyone looks better because of the new dress code.
"Everybody looks professional, and some days they can come in looking like the president," said Tymar Sutton, 14, of Clairton.
Annie Siebert: email@example.com or 412-263-1613. Twitter: @AnnieSiebert.