A Kentucky mom shared her frustrations with a local high school's dress code after her daughter was allegedly sent to the principal's office for wearing an outfit that revealed her collarbone.
Mom Stacie Dunn posted a photo of her daughter Stephanie on the first day of school wearing the "inappropriate" outfit in question.
In the caption, she wrote, "So this is my daughter at school today. I had to come to the school because according to her school principal what she is wearing is out of dress code and inappropriate for school."
Dunn said that when she arrived at the school, she saw a group of female students in the principal's office for similar dress code violations. "This is ridiculous! WOODFORD County High School and the principle have been enforcing a dress code where as girls can not show even there collar bones [sic] because it may distract their male class mates," she wrote on Facebook. "Parents are being called away from their important jobs and students are missing important class time because they are showing their collarbones! Something needs to change!"
After receiving a phone call from the school about Stephanie's dress code violation, Dunn brought her daughter a scarf to wear. But the saga continued when the outfit was still deemed inappropriate, and the teen was ultimately sent home after "giving the principal an attitude," the mom claims in a follow-up Facebook post.
The following day, the mom launched a petition to help Stephanie and her fellow students change their school's dress code. It currently has over 4,300 signtatures.
Woodford County High School's 10-year-old dress code has been a source of tension in the past. In March, student Maggie Sunseri released a documentary featuring a series of interviews with female students, as well as the school principal, Rob Akers.
Titled "Shame: A Documentary on School Dress Code," the 33-minute film highlights some of the students' issues with the dress code, which mandates that shirts cover their collarbones and that shorts and skirts to be knee-length or longer.
Though Stacie Dunn's daughter Stephanie is not featured in the film, the girls interviewed express the same kinds of concerns she shared this week. They say they feel embarrassed and ashamed about being "called out" for "revealing" outfits that show their collarbones, that it's difficult to find acceptable clothes for schools, that the rules are not uniformly enforced and that it's absurd to be forced to missed class because of these unfair standards.
As a result, they say they feel distracted with worry about whether or not each teacher will deem their outfits appropriate and fear that they may be humiliated.
In the documentary, Principal Akers cites removing distraction as a motivating factor behind dress codes, though he adds he was not at Woodford County High School when this particular policy was implemented during the 2004-05 school year. In his past experience as an administrator, he says, "issues with sexual harassment" among students prompted stricter dress codes.
"Certain outfits that [female students] wore created this situation where guys would make inappropriate statements, and there was a distraction to the learning environment based on what some of the folks were wearing at school," he says in the film.
But the girls believe that it's unfair to limit female students' clothing options instead of addressing the harassment issues more directly with male students. "It sends the message to boys that it's all girls' fault, basically -- any reaction or any action that they do is the girl's fault," one girl says in the film. "It wasn't their fault that they were staring or got distracted. It's the girls' fault."
In an interview with The Huffington Post this week, Sunseri said the inspiration behind her film and her opposition to the dress code "has little to do with clothing and more to do with the underlying message behind a code that tells young women to cover up and young boys that they can't control themselves." The 16-year-old high school junior said the dress code is sexist toward both girls and boys in that it "perpetuates the notion that a woman's body is inherently more sexual than a man's body, and that young boys' natural tendencies are to harass or assault women."
Sunseri added that she believes this is a widespread problem in schools and greater society across the nation, not just at Woodford County High School. "This is a time when we are already trying to figure out our place in the world, and on top of that we are made to feel guilty about the body parts we were born with."
Principal Akers told HuffPost in response to last week's incident that his school's dress code is not about "sexualizing the collarbone" but having "measurable" metrics that allow the rules to be applied fairly. He also added that he's always been open to discussing students' concerns and making adjustments to the rules but that no one has ever tried to meet with him.
Until now. Since the recent incident with Stacie Dunn and her daughter Stephanie, Sunseri has come forward with a proposal for a new dress code. After making small changes to the proposal in a meeting with Principal Akers', she presented it at a school meeting on August 17 in front of a council of parents, teachers and administrators. According to Akers and Sunseri, the council moved the proposal to a committee for review and asked the junior to put together a group of students to join the committee in this task. Then, the council as a whole will consider a proposal from the committee at the next meeting on September 21.
Sunseri's proposed dress code, which she considers an exercise in compromise, would allow for sleeveless shirts with straps that are at least three fingertips wide, skirts and dresses that meet the "fingertip rule" for length and shirts that meet the "credit card rule" -- a credit card length from the bottom of the throat to the top of the shirt. The rules would also permit leggings and yoga pants as long as a top covered the front and back sides. If passed, the code would go into effect in January.
Stacie Dunn expressed her joy at the prospect for real change in a Facebook post. "Hopefully the outcome will be favorable!" she wrote. Principal Akers told HuffPost that he applauds Sunseri's initiative, both in making the documentary and following through with tangible action.
"Everyone always wanted the dress code to change, but no one was willing to do anything about it," Sunseri said in her interview, adding, "I hope that anyone reading my story feels empowered to go out and make changes within their own community."
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