School shames 11-year-old for her 'suggestive' outfit

Aug 26, 2016 at 11:59 a.m. ET
Image: Creative Images/Getty

School dress codes are intended to keep kids focused on schoolwork and free of distractions, but lately it seems like they're having the opposite effect. Controversy erupted at a Kansas middle school this week after an 11-year-old girl was sent to the office for wearing leggings and forbidden from calling her mom to bring her a change of clothes.

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Bella Jones, a sixth-grader at Lansing Middle School, was shamed by school administrators for showing up at school in floral leggings and a long tunic that covered most of her body. The dress code at Lansing doesn't expressly forbid leggings but does prohibit any clothing that's too "revealing or suggestive." A school nurse measured the length of Bella's tunic top and apparently decided it wasn't long enough even though it covered the girl's entire backside. Bella's mom, Kimberly, even shared a photo of the outfit on Facebook for reference.

dress code violation

Image: Facebook/Kimberly Jones

Bella's outfit was far from "suggestive," but what's even more disturbing about this case is the way the school allegedly handled it. Kimberly Jones says the nurse made her daughter put on a pair of sweatpants over her outfit. Bella asked if she could call her mom to bring her a less humiliating change of clothes and was told she wasn't allowed to call a parent. The 11-year-old texted her mom anyway but says the principal told them her only option was to wear the sweatpants or go home, even if her mom brought different clothes.

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Dress codes are touted as a way to ensure a safe learning environment where kids can focus, but more and more it seems they're really just about shaming and humiliating young girls. Even covering your body from head to toe is apparently too provocative for some of these administrators, and now they're also not allowed to call their parents or to change into anything other than school-issued sweats? That's utterly absurd.

If a student's clothing is truly an issue, then parents should be the first people notified. They should have the option to rectify the situation, and the entire matter should be handled discreetly, in a way that doesn't shame or humiliate girls who are already jumping through hoops to meet all the ridiculous dress code standards we throw their way.

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More than anything, administrators need to ask themselves if the outfits they supposedly find so shocking and appalling are really that big of a deal. If the dress code doesn't forbid leggings and the kid is wearing a long, loose top over her entire torso, where is the problem? Is it really worth the missed class time and the ensuing humiliation for the student?

Every time a girl is pulled out of class for a dress code violation or told to not wear a perfectly benign article of clothing, what she's really being told is that eliminating supposed distractions for boys is more important than her self-esteem, her self-expression and her own right to a safe and interruption-free learning environment. If there's really an issue, schools should give Mom and Dad a call. Otherwise, stop shaming and blaming girls for the simple act of wearing clothes while female.

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