Controversial school dress codes repeatedly make the news.
Women have gotten in trouble for not wearing a bra, or for wearing a bra when the straps are showing. Both collarbones and shoulders have been called “too distracting” for boys in the classroom, and there are more than a few reports of girls being sent home for the clothes chosen for them by a parent.
Because of these punishments, students often miss lessons to have their hemlines measured or to wait for a change of clothes to be brought to school by a parent. Now, students and parents are pushing back against school dress codes that they say objectify female students.
Here are 17 times students got in trouble for what they were wearing – and how they took a stand.
A seventh grade girl was allegedly asked to cover up a T-shirt that a teacher found offensive — her parents say the shirt sends an anti-discriminatory message.
Emery, a seventh grader in Fort Bragg, N.C., wore a T-shirt to school with the words “Why be racist, sexist, homophobic or transphobic when you could just be quiet?” Per Yahoo, teachers asked her to cover it up with a sweatshirt, claiming the text was offensive.
Emery’s mother, Katie Moore Smith, disagreed. She said on Facebook that she “felt like the shirt represented categories of children who are marginalized, and she will be the one that has their backs even when those teachers and admins don’t.” Further, she said she was going to “celebrate [Emery’s] bravery and her values.”
The Department of Defence Education Activity public affairs officer, Jade Fulce, released the following statement, ABC News reports:
“Students are at the heart of everything we do. After further review of our dress code policies, we realised that the shirt did not violate our policies. The school reached out to the parents and apologised that same day.”
A Florida student reportedly received in-school suspension for violating a dress code that prohibits the wearing of “ripped jeans and other torn clothing.”
The Palm Beach Post reported that a Forest Hill High School student was removed from class and given an in-school suspension for wearing ripped jeans that violated the school’s dress code.
The student’s mother, Palm Beach County Mayor Melissa McKinlay, wrote in a Facebook post that a school official “told [her daughter] that she needed to consider the guys in her class and their hormones when choosing her wardrobe” and called for the administrator’s suspension.
McKinlay acknowledged that her daughter did violate the school’s dress code, but called out the double standard of “sexism” and “victim blaming” of telling women to dress a certain way to help men control themselves.
“Perhaps she should have worn a different pair of jeans,” McKinlay wrote. “But why should she have to worry about dressing a certain way to curtail a boy’s potential behaviour? So, like, it’s her fault if the boy touches her because of what she was wearing? A boy’s potential inability to control his hormones warrants my daughter’s inability to attend her classes today and miss valuable curriculum?”
In a follow-up Facebook post, McKinlay wrote that she spoke with the principal and other school board members and was “quite confident they are addressing the situation.”
Mallory Johnston and Grace Wood protested their school’s policy of banning bra straps from showing.
Mallory Johnston and Grace Wood, students at Essex High School in Essex, Ontario, protested their school’s policy of suspending girls whose bra straps were showing.
Johnston hung posters up around the school with messages like “Stop objectifying women,” which were swiftly taken down by the vice principal. Both Johnston and Wood encouraged students to dress the way they wanted.
Johnston was then suspended for breaking the dress code in protest.
Mike Hawkins, the school’s principal, told the CBC that “anyone needs approval to post anything around the school.“
Johnston stands by her demonstrations.
“I spoke out because it was very degrading to keep getting pulled out of my education for something so silly. I knew going forward with this would get backlash, but it was a risk I was willing to take because I believe that something should be changed,” she said. “I believe in equality and women’s rights. I should be able to speak my opinion without being disciplined.”
A high school senior was told to retake her yearbook picture because her exposed shoulders broke the school’s dress code — but she started a petition instead.
Maine South High School senior Grace Goble had worn an off-the-shoulder top to school functions before – but when she wore it for her yearbook photo, she was told she would have to retake the photo due to violating the dress code.
In response, she started a petition called “Maine South High School: end the over-sexualization of young women’s bodies” on Change.org.
The day she posted the petition, her school principal told her that she wouldn’t have to retake her photo and asked her to be on a team of students who will revise the dress code.
“I was pleasantly surprised [by] how willing my principal was to take actions and hear my thoughts. He’s new to the school this year, so I had only briefly met him before this,” she previously told INSIDER. “I’m proud that I was able to make a change, even if it was just at my school. I hope that others see the power of an individual standing up for what they believe in and do the same.”
A high school principal told students not to wear leggings “unless you are a size 0 or 2,” upsetting both students and parents.
“I’ve told you this before, I’m going to tell you this now, unless you are a size zero or two and you wear something like that, even though you’re not fat, you look fat,” the school’s principal, Heather Taylor, said. Her speech was recorded and obtained by WCBD-TV, a local news station, though she initially tried to downplay her remarks.
After uproar from both students and parents, who called her message “hurtful” and “unprofessional,” Taylor agreed to apologise.
A 17-year-old said she was told to put Band-Aids on her breasts after school officials claimed her nipples were distracting male students.
Lizzy Martinez, a junior at Braden River High School in Bradenton, Florida, went to school braless because she didn’t want straps to irritate a bad sunburn. She said she was then pulled out of class for distracting male students when a boy laughed and told his friends that she wasn’t wearing a bra.
“I decided not to wear a bra today and got pulled out of class [because] one of my teachers complained that it was a ‘distraction to boys in my class,'” she wrote on Twitter. “My school basically told me that boys’ education is far more important than mine and I should be ashamed of my body.”
Braden River High School issued a statement in response saying that Martinez violated the district’s Code of Student Conduct, which prohibits students from wearing attire that distracts others.
“It is undisputed that this matter should have been handled differently at the school level,” general counsel for the School District of Manatee County Mitchell Teitelbaum previously wrote to INSIDER in a statement. “Corrective measures have been taken to prevent a recurrence in the way these matters will be addressed in the future.”
A teen was reportedly told she violated her high school’s dress code by being “busty” and “plus size,” and now she’s seeking legal action.
“I was mortified by my teacher, of all people, saying something like this in front of my class,” Anderson said in a press release provided to INSIDER by her and her mother’s attorney.
Anderson and her mother are seeking legal action to prevent other students from being body shamed.
Joplin High School did not respond to INSIDER’s request for comment.
A teen said she was taken out of class twice for breaking her school’s dress code while wearing a crew neck t-shirt.
High school senior Tori Taylor claims that she was told to leave class twice because of shirts she was wearing.
Dickson County High School’s dress code states that “All students must wear a collared and/or crew neck top with sleeves.” So what was wrong with Taylor’s shirt?
According to News Channel 5, she was told “it wasn’t the right cut of a crew neck top.”
The school released a statement to Yahoo Style saying that “The purpose of our dress code is to assure students will dress and groom in a clean, neat, and modest manner in order not to distract or interfere with the educational environment of the school. For the most part, 99% of our students have come to school within our dress code guidelines.”
After Catherine Pearlman’s daughter Casey was sent home for being dressed “inappropriately,” she told the school to buy her appropriate clothing.
When Catherine Pearlman’s daughter Casey was sent home for her shorts violating her school’s dress code, she made the school an offer: take her shopping yourself.
Pearlman listed her daughter’s particular specifications with regards to her clothing preferences – no frills, dresses, or pants, and a height of five feet seven inches – in an open letter to her school signed “Sick Of The Dress Code Mum” on TODAY, and challenged them to find clothing that also meets the dress code.
“I’d schedule a few afternoons and weekends for this endeavour. I can tell you from experience that just heading to the mall, Target, and the outlets won’t cut it,” she wrote.
A middle school student was allegedly forced to put duct tape on her bare legs for violating her school’s dress code with ripped jeans.
A seventh-grader at Benjamin Stoddert Middle School told Fox 5 DC that school officials allegedly made her cover her ripped jeans that violated the dress code with duct tape. The student then told her mother that the tape was burning her skin. Her mother said the school didn’t contact her to tell her to bring a change of clothes.
“Our practice is to communicate with the parent before a student covers the holes with tape; however, that protocol was not followed today, and I apologise for that,” the school’s interim principal, Marvin Jones, said in a statement, also promising to review the proper dress code violation procedures with staff.
A 17-year-old AP student was told to call her mother to bring a change of clothes for wearing a long-sleeved t-shirt dress. Her mother was upset she wasn’t allowed to stay in school.
The vice principal at Tom C. Clark High School in San Antonio, Texas, reportedly told 17-year-old Sophia Abuabara to call her mother to bring a change of clothes because her t-shirt dress violated the school’s dress code requiring four inches between the end of a dress and knees.
When her mother Rosey Abuabara arrived, she had a conversation with the principal that ended with her getting escorted off campus – though Sophia was allowed to stay at school.
“What is more important here? My daughter’s skirt length, or her PHYSICS AP TEST SCORE?” Abuabara, captioned a photo of her daughter’s outfit on Facebook. “She also had an [Advanced Placement US.S. history] test, and a LATIN 3 test, back to back. Don’t understand how this is a dress code violation. She’s 5’9″. It’s hard to find anything that fits longer.”
A mother complained when her 12-year-old daughter was told that her denim skirt looked like she should “be clubbing.”
Reese Franyo, a sixth grader in the Charleston County School District, was reportedly told by a teacher to change her outfit because her denim skirt looked like she should “be clubbing,” according to a Facebook post by her mother Suzie Webster.
“Reese apologised numerous times and was clearly feeling like she did a bad thing wearing the skirt I BOUGHT FOR HER, which just killed me,” she wrote on Facebook. “We spent weeks looking for shorts and skirts long enough to be appropriate and this skirt is the exact same length as the ‘uniform’ skorts I bought at Old Navy. Yet suddenly she was made to feel trashy because according to her teacher and authority figure, she looked like she belonged in a club!”
Upon measuring the skirt, the administration found that it did, in fact, meet the proper guidelines. A statement provided to TODAY said that the teacher who made the comment had been “addressed and corrected.”
A mother was frustrated when her daughter was reportedly sent home from Woodford County High School in Kentucky for showing her collarbone.
Stephanie Dunn, a student at Woodford County High School in Versailles, Kentucky, was punished for showing her collarbone at school, Mic reported. Even when the administration called her mother, who brought her daughter a scarf, the principal called the outfit “still inappropriate” and sent Stephanie home, according to her mother’s Facebook post.
The principal of the school said that “distraction” among the student body “always comes back to what the girls are wearing” in a student-made documentary.
Students at a Catholic high school were outraged after the prom dress guidelines banned some prom dresses for certain body types.
Students at Boylan Catholic High School called out the school’s prom dress guidelines for body shaming.
“Some girls may wear the same dress, but due to body types one dress may be acceptable while the other is not,” the guidelines stated according to The Evening Standard. “If you are unsure about your dress, please show a picture of you in your dress and we will gladly let you know if it is approved.”
Students created a Twitter account to criticise the policy and organise an alternative prom, dubbed “MORP” (“prom” spelled backwards).
“As a private Catholic high school, we adhere to teaching our students moral values which include modesty,” Amy Ott, president of the school, told CNN. “We want all students to feel beautiful in what they wear while also adhering to our values as a Catholic school.”
Students of all genders at San Benito High School in California wore off-the-shoulder tops to protest their high school’s sexist dress code.
San Benito High School in Hollister, California, reportedly sent home 50 students for wearing off-the-shoulder tops in August 2017. The style was banned by the school’s dress code, but students said the rule hadn’t been enforced until then.
In response, students of all genders wore off-the-shoulder tops to protest the policy a few days later.
“Off-the-shoulder is a very big trend in the fashion industry right now,” one student told Yahoo Style. “It’s not harming anyone physically… I think it is ridiculous how we have to fight against [the administration] to wear a shirt that is not harming anyone.”
The principal then met with students to discuss the dress code.
“It’s been a really good process for me as principal to sit down and hear where issues arose,” he told the site, adding that the school would never blame female students for distracting others with their choice of clothing.
High school senior Tori DiPaolo saw an opportunity to call out her school’s sexist dress code in her yearbook quote.
Victoria DiPaolo used her senior portrait to make her feelings known about her high school’s dress code, which she said penalizes female students more often than male students.
For senior portraits, female students wear black off-the-shoulder tops, so she captioned the photo “I’m sorry, did my shoulders distract you from reading this quote?”
“Over the past four years, myself and many of my friends have received dress code violations for clothes that were nowhere near inappropriate,” she told Yahoo Style. “I became a bit infamous around school for fighting the administration about dress code, so I figured I’d use my senior quote as one final jab.”
She also told the outlet that both teachers and students loved the quote.
Kate Wilson, a 16-year-old student at Honesdale High School, says she was reprimanded for wearing leggings and a T-shirt to school.
“I was told that my pants were making the teachers uncomfortable and my vice principal made a point of how distracting it was to see me walk up stairs,” Wilson told INSIDER.
According to the Honesdale High School’s student handbook, the dress code states that “Female students will not be permitted to wear skin tight clothing, objectionable form fitting blouses, or short tops to expose a bare midriff,” but does not specifically address leggings.
Wilson wrote a Facebook post from the nurse’s office about her experience, which went viral.
“Today, I was told that the discomfort of a middle-aged man who seemingly can’t keep his eyes off of a 16-year-old’s rear end takes precedence over my education,” she wrote. “I was called disrespectful for defending myself. The only disrespect that occurred in that office was the blatant disrespect of my rights over my body, my education, and my rights as a human being.”
A representative for Honesdale High School didn’t immediately return INSIDER’s request for comment.
Lori Ann Orr says her son, a student at Laurens Middle School in South Carolina, was sent to the principal’s office for an “emerging hole” in his jeans.
Lori Ann Orr wrote in a Facebook post that her son Ethan was “getting written up every week” for wearing jeans with “non-existent ‘holes'” and that Laurens Middle School sent him home over a frayed patch in his jeans that they called an “emerging hole.”
“These clothes were bought in August for the new school year. Excuse me, but my children play. And stuff happens,” she wrote. “My husband and I struggle to pay rent to keep a roof over my kids’ heads, pay electricity to make sure they have air or heat and water to bathe and really struggle to put food on the table. I DO NOT have the money to go buy my kids a whole new wardrobe every month or two bc they might get a tiny hole or tear or blemish on their clothing.”
“I’ve spoken with school officials. And they have informed me that they are amending the guidelines in reference to emerging holes and putting a stop to the dress code inspections,” she wrote. “And that made me so happy. I’m thankful that they listened and understood and decided to act on it.”
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.