Kingsley Junior High Dress Code Targeting 'Bra Straps, Cleavage' Unleashes Backlash

Apr 28, 2017

Spaghetti straps like this are banned at Kingsley Junior High School.
Credit Carlos R / Pexels

How much skin is too much skin to show at school?

That's a question swirling around Kingsley Junior High School in Normal after the principal sent out a dress code edict prohibiting clothing that reveals bare shoulders, bra straps, midriff or cleavage.

Principal Shelly Erickson announced the policy in a voice mail message to students and parents this week, and unleashed a storm on social media, with some mothers complaining of a double standard that targets female students.

"Hello Kingsley families," Erickson's the message begins. "The good news is that warm weather is finally approaching Illinois. The bad news is I am seeing students come to school inappropriately dressed."

Erickson said, "Shorts should cover students' entire bottoms, there should be no bare shoulders, no visible bra straps and no midriff showing. Shirts that show excessive cleavage are also not appropriate for school."

The message said students who violate the code will be asked to change into gym clothes for the rest of the school day, or call a parent to bring them a change of clothing.

The group, The Resisterhood, founded after the January inauguration of Donald Trump to follow women's issues, was one of the first sites to post complaints about the dress code. 

Resisterhood's Sarah Lindenbaum said she was contacted by several mothers who complained the principal's message failed to address boys' attire.

"These parents aren't suggesting that the dress code be done away with all together," Lindenbaum said. 

"What we are talking about here is a rule that seems to unfairly target female students. Short-shorts and belly shirts and spaghetti strap tank tops aren't in fashion for boys. It's pretty clear Erickson is referring to only female students."

Lindenbaum said some mothers felt there is a hidden message in the policy that suggests male students might become too distracted in the classroom by females who wear skimpy attire.

"The coded language here seems to be that girls' clothing has the potential to sexually arouse young men which then distracts them from learning," Lindebaum said.

One blogger who posted on the Resisterhood social media site complained, "There is a parallel here between victim-blaming of survivors of sexual assault."

Kingsley's principal referred questions about the dress code to the Unit 5 school system.

Laura O'Donnell, Unit 5 director for secondary education, defended the principal's policy. She said the school system's dress code, written in its Handbook, is actually "gender neutral."

The Handbook prohibits clothing that "fails to adequately cover the body." 

O'Donnell said Kingsley's principal was trying to address a problem with students who push clothing boundaries, especially in Spring as warm weather sets in. 

"Our reality as educators is we don't typically see males wearing those kinds of clothing," O'Donnell said.

O'Donnell and Lindebaum agree on one thing at least: retailers are responsible for marketing ever more revealing clothing to ever-younger female buyers. 

"It's challenging. I have nieces and I have been out shopping with them with my sister. There are constant conversations around 'that is not that is not something you are going to wear to school, that is not appropriate.' So this is something I live this in my personal life," O'Donnell said.

Are public school uniforms an answer? O'Donnell says maybe.

"When I was a high school dean and assistant principal in this district, my running joke was if we had school uniforms my job would be greatly diminished in terms of these kinds of conversations.

We want to achieve a balance and still allow students to to express themselves through their clothing. Generally our students do a great job, there are just a few who try to push the envelope," O'Donnell added.

Lindebaum said the fifth through eight grade is a particularly delicate time for many girls. Challenging girls on their clothing choices can be a sensitive issue for female students at a time when many begin struggling with body image. 

A spirited debate has begun on social media with some parents defending the Kingsley dress code, and others lambasting it. 

"As a parent of both male and female students, I thank you," one parent wrote to Erickson. "I was not offended by the policy, nor did I find it aggressive or inappropriate."

But one woman wrote on Resisterhood's site, "I think the problem is men and their entitlements, not our clothes!!!!! Don't blame females for male problems."

O'Donnell said Kingsley's principal might consider clarifying the clothing rules to make sure it is understood they include boys.  "That might allay some of the fears and angst we have heard around this issue," she said.

 

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