A group of students went braless at Princeton Secondary School Thursday to protest what they say is unfair enforcement of rules about dress.
They also put up posters with slogans including “My body is not a distraction” and “Yes, I have breasts.”
According to the protesters, who ranged in age from 13 to 18, girls have been disciplined for their attire, including for showing a bra strap.
Ashlin White, a Grade 12 student said being braless “feels great and very free.”
The protest was because “we are all sick of getting dress-coded…a bra strap should not be sexualized,” said White.
Another student reported staff are telling girls that their fashion choices “are a distraction.”
If male students get distracted “that’s not our fault and not our problem,” she added.
One of the protest organizers said the girls’ intent is not to “bash the school” but rather to “bring awareness to the fact that a bra strap is not sexual.”
She said while staff disapproved of the posters the administration has otherwise been understanding. A lunchtime meeting was organized by PSS vice-principal Crystal Larsen.
“I am a firm believer in student voice,” said Larsen following the meeting. “I’m really glad that the girls want us to look at the dress code so there is a consistent set of rules that we are following.”
Princeton Secondary School has no formal or written dress policy, although the administration announced plans in May 2017 to develop one for this school year.
The lack of clear expectations has resulted in individual teachers making their own decisions about what is or is not appropriate.
“The bra strap, that’s the one that the students feel strongest about,” she said.
A milder issue related to dress code is hats, said Larsen. Students in Grades 8 and 9 cannot wear hats in class, while older students are allowed.
“This is grey and black and white is better…In fairness it probably is about time that we create a modern and realistic dress code.”
Currently staff can ask a student to not wear a particular outfit in the future, ask the student to cover up, and for repeated issues can send a student home to change.
“It’s usually the third time that we ask them to go home but usually they can find something else to wear.”
And it’s not all about bra straps, said Larsen. “I believe in individual expression but I don’t want to see anyone’s butt cheeks.”
While dozens of girls took part in Thursday’s protest, not everyone felt they could support it.
“Yes of course I am wearing a bra. I always do,” said Karly Shapele.
Students should dress “respectfully for school,” she said.
“I’ve seen some pretty revealing clothes,” said Shapele, like too-short skirts and shorts. “When I can see someone’s butt cheeks that makes me uncomfortable.
Seventeen-year-old Caleb Mannhofer said seeing a bra strap “isn’t a big deal…As a guy I do not get aroused by a shoulder.”
Dale Furgason said he is not really concerned with how girls at Princeton Secondary School are dressed.
“As long as you are not showing too much of your body, I don’t care.”
Larsen said she will meet with concerned students again next week, and has already asked them for their thoughts on proper dress code wording.
“We need to create a policy. I think that’s what we are going to get and I think that is exciting.”
A policy will require not just student input, but also direction from teachers, parents and the school district, she said.
In the meantime, Larsen will meet with staff and try to find common ground to deal with issues that arise.
“I have to go to my staff and ask ‘how do we want to handle this as consistently as we can until we have a dress code created?’”
Larsen said she appreciates the students chose to protest in a respectful and peaceful manner.
“I want the kids to be heard. I want them to know that they are heard, that this is an important issue, but there’s lines that have to be drawn as to what is acceptable in a school.”
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