By Anita Oh

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Some parents and students of Archbishop Ryan High School say a night to remember is turning into a nightmare.

It’s due to the dress code policy for the junior and senior proms, which prohibits some attire. For example, dresses that are backless are allowed, but only if they do not fall past the natural waistline.

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Students and their dates, even those from other schools, must get their attire approved by the administration before they can buy a ticket or attend the event.

Parents say they are concerned that to get approval, their daughters send a full-body photo in their gowns, front and back, to an email account monitored by some members of the administration.

As of Thursday, Kenneth Gavin, a spokesman for the Archdiocese, says 150 dresses have been approved. 11 others were approved pending slight modifications and 8 were not approved.

Gavin also says the email system is meant to ease the burden of bringing a dress to school and also enable a faster response. According to Gavin, the photos are reviewed by two female administrators and one male administrator. They are stored securely and deleted after the prom to ensure students wear the approved dresses.

An example of a reportedly denied dress sent to Eyewitness News. (credit: Anita Oh)

An example of a reportedly denied dress sent to Eyewitness News. (credit: Anita Oh)

Several students sent Eyewitness News examples of dresses they say were denied by the administration.

School officials reportedly told one student that her dress would be accepted once she sewed up the neckline.

“I mean I went to Catholic school, but this is archaic,” said one concerned parent, who did not want to be identified.

She says her daughter’ dress was not approved.

“It has a slit in the side and it went right above the knee. According to them, when she moved it would show too much. If I think something’s acceptable for my daughter, why do I need someone else telling me yes it is or no its not?”

So far, at least 650 students have also signed a petition objecting to the “female dress code,” calling it “degrading, arbitrary and unfair.”

Photo provided to Eyewitness News of a dress reportedly modified for prom approval. (credit: Anita Oh)

Photo provided to Eyewitness News of a dress reportedly modified for prom approval. (credit: Anita Oh)

“It’s been affecting a lot of kids,” said senior Nick Polini, who wrote a separate letter to the administration, raising students’ concerns.

“I think the prom dress code should be changed but I don’t think the petition was the best way to go about it,” Polini added.

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Alumna Lisa Wisniewski says she feels the dress code policy is unfair. “These are good kids. They’ve had a dress code for 12 years. This is the one night they have to wear something they choose and feel special,” Wisniewski said.

The junior prom is in April, while the senior prom is in May.

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia issued a full statement on the matter:

“The prom dress code in use by Archbishop Ryan High School was adopted some time ago and is in line with policies in use by high schools throughout the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. As our high schools are Catholic, they seek to engender holistic Christian formation of young men and women spiritually, academically, and socially. The intention of the policy is to ensure modesty in dress at this social function, which is school sponsored.

In order to provide a maximum amount of lead time for students shopping for prom dresses, the school began communicating with students and parents in October and followed up with an assembly later in the fall to further discuss the policy and answer questions. As part of the presentation in the fall, slideshows were utilized to clearly illustrate the types of dresses that are appropriate and inappropriate in relation to the guidelines. Archbishop Ryan’s Office of Student Affairs has been able to provide families with contact information for dress shops that would be able to assist them in selecting a dress that meets policy standards.

Again, all of this took place several months ago, and well in advance of prom dress shopping season, to provide as much advance notice as possible. Parent feedback received by the school has illustrated support for the policy and the steps taken to make the process of selecting an appropriate dress as easy as possible.

In order to avoid any issues on the evening of the prom, students have been asked to submit a photo of their dress to a dedicated email address at the school. The dress is then reviewed by a committee of three school administrators (two females and one male) and feedback is provided within 24 hours. As of today, 150 dresses have been approved outright, 11 others were approved pending slight modifications, and only 8 were not approved.

A small number of students have come to the school administration with questions about the policy as it relates to dresses. Others have asked for assistance in determining whether or not a dress would be acceptable. In each case, school administration has worked with these individuals to reach a resolution. Any students who have questions or concerns, should seek assistance from school administration.”

The pictures are used solely for the purpose of determining whether the dress is appropriate for the guidelines. They are not shared beyond the administrators responsible for determining acceptability of the dresses. They are stored securely and deleted after the prom. They are retained until that time in the event that a student shows up to the prom in a dress other than the one that was originally approved.”

School officials say the prom dress code has been in effect for several years and that students and parents were reminded about it back in October.

Female students also attended a prom dress code assembly which showed examples of acceptable and unacceptable attire. Many students also backed out of scheduled interviews Thursday for fear of expulsion or other repercussions.