High School Students Protest ‘Sexist’ Dress Code

Two Belgrade High School students pose in the outfits they were dress coded for. (Photo: Josie Espinoza)

A number of students at Belgrade High School in Montana staged a protest of the school’s dress code on Friday, May 12 — and were sent home because of it.

Josie Espinoza, a freshman at the school, posted details of the aftermath to her Instagram account. “Today I was dress coded in front of everyone for my shorts not meeting requirements. I was publicly embarrassed by my teacher in front of the whole class. Then had to be sent home to change because I was a ‘distraction,'” she captioned the post.

Espinoza tells Yahoo Style that she knew her outfit did not abide by the school’s regulations. “I was wearing a black romper that did not go past my longest finger and my straps did not make the one inch rule, so I was sent home because I didn’t make dress code,” she says.

Belgrade High School’s dress code clearly states that straps must be worn and must be one inch wide and “hemlines must reach below the students’ longest finger when shoulders hang loose.” Espinoza was looking to send a message to the school administration.

Fifteen other students followed suit and were also sent home for disobeying the dress code. Espinoza shared a memo on Snapchat the night before the protest that was widely circulated to her classmates.

This memo was circulated to a number of Belgrade High School students the night before the protest. (Photo: Josie Espinoza)

“If we don’t break this dress code nothing will ever happen,” the notes on Espinoza’s Snapchat read. “And guess what girls will still be seen as sexual objects instead of strong women who have back bones and that can stand up for what they believe in. Do guys really think writing a letter will get us anywhere? No it won’t because they will end up [in the] trash where everything else a student does. Because all they care about is how the school looks. Stand up for once in your life.”

Espinoza shares that along with Friday’s incident involving dress coding, she was also recently reprimanded for another outfit.

“Earlier that week I was dress coded because my shorts didn’t make dress code requirements, and I thought they would be okay — due to the fact that very [few] people get dress coded in our school,” she says. “If you’re in a different classroom — each time you will get dress coded differently. If I’m in my first period I’m going to get dress coded, but if I’m in my seventh period I wouldn’t.”

She says the difference in coding lies in her teacher’s judgement of the rules. “Not all teachers enforce it because some of them may feel like it’s not fair I suppose,” Espinoza says.

Aside from the fact that she feels it’s not properly regulated across the school, she believes it is fundamentally sexist.

“It’s a sexist dress code and it needs to be changed — or it needs to be equally enforced,” she says. “It bothers me because I feel like dress codes are put in place mainly to set boundaries for the female students in that school and their motto is ‘dress for success.’ If you’re going to make us dress like professionals, you should treat us like professionals. It’s not professional for them to stand us up in class and point out why we’re violating dress code.”

The student believes that the idea that girls might be a distraction in the classroom is not right. “I feel like it demeans boys more than it demeans girls because boys are seen as animals, and they can’t control themselves around girls’ shoulders or seeing girls thighs.”

Espinoza also feels that female students are more often coded than male students at her high school. “90 percent of dress code violations are girls,” she says. “Our own principal said that it’s a fact that more girls get dress coded than male students.”

The school’s principal, Paul Lamb, said dress coding at the high school is not related to the idea that female students might be a “distraction.”

“That’s not the reason and that’s not what we’re telling our students — that they’re being distracting to the boys,” Lamb told KBZK. “What the administration here is saying is they are in violation of the dress code and it needs to be changed.”

Lamb also told the news outlet that he is open to discussing the code with students. “I would appreciate if instead of a protest they would sit down with us about trying to make a change if they want a change to be made,” he said.

Since the protest on Friday, Espinoza shares that she hasn’t received a response from the school’s administration and no changes have been made to the code. She has an idea of what she hopes the school will consider in potentially altering the code.

“I hope that instead of doing arm length, which can depend on your body type, that they change it to maybe the inseam and allow spaghetti straps. It gets hot in our classrooms, and we don’t have any air conditioning — so I feel that it needs to be changed for how hot it is outside.” However, Principal Lamb told KBZK that the lack of air conditioning in the school is only an issue for two months of the year.

The freshman in high school has the support of many of her classmates — and even her parents. “My parents totally agree with me,” she says. “They think that I need to stand up for what I believe in. The dress code is not fairly enforced and things need to be changed in our school.”

She adds: “Our goal is not to have people dress like sluts — but to have an equally enforced dress code.”

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