Girl's dress-code protest shirt lands her in juvenile detention for 6 days

When the school board in Christian County, Kentucky, changed the dress code to forbid shirts that bared shoulders, mother Theresa Rucks says no one told her or her 15-year-old daughter Isabella Messer until after she was suspended for it in August. Rucks decided to help her daughter protest what they thought was an unfair rule.

“Do my shoulders turn you on?” read the front of the T-shirt Rucks helped Messer make and wear two days after her suspension from Hopkinsville High School. On the back, it said, “If so, go back to the 1920’s.”

The shirt in question (Photo: Theresa Rucks)
The shirt in question (Photo: Theresa Rucks)

Messer got to fourth period before a teacher had her pulled out of class. Physically speaking, the shirt was not in violation of the dress code. The neckline was high, the sleeves nearly reached her elbows, and it went below her waist.

“[Nathan] Howton the [assistant principal], told me that the teacher that originally hit her with a violation for the off-the-shoulder shirt felt that [the shirt’s statement] was harassment,” Rucks tells Yahoo Lifestyle. Later, she says, the school’s new principal, John Gunn, and someone from the school board told her the violation was actually for “sexual content.”

Messer resisted going to the office for the shirt. “I said, it goes to my neck, it’s not a dress code violation, and I tried to call my mom and they tried to take my phone from me,” Messer says.

That’s when a peaceful protest turned into something else. According to Kentucky New Era, a police report states that Messer was uncooperative and loud in the lobby, and when the school resource officer attempted to take away her phone, she pulled away. They handcuffed her, and the scuffle left marks on her wrist and neck that Messer’s grandmother later showed in photos on Facebook.

While she was already handcuffed, Howton noticed that Messer still had her phone in her hands behind her back. As the officer reached to get it, Messer says she instinctively put her foot out to stop him and hit him in the shin.

“She trains in Taekwondo,” Rucks says. “Anyone who trains in Taekwondo is going to have that automatic instinct.”

At this point Rucks was notified, but they would not release the teen to her mother’s custody.

And, instinct or not, Messer was arrested for disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, and third-degree assault of a law enforcement officer. She was transported to McCracken Regional Juvenile Detention Center, where she spent six days.

“It was freezing, and the blankets were superthin, and the clothes were superthin,” the girl told Yahoo Lifestyle of the detention center, where she was with girls who had stabbed other kids and attempted murder. “The food tasted superhorrible too, so I was not eating a lot.”

Messer was released for her first court date, Aug. 28, which happened to be her 15th birthday. Now she has to attend an alternative school until her next court date, Sept. 25. When she’s not at school she’s on house arrest and can’t even be outside in her backyard.

“All Christian County Public Schools have a dress code for students,” the Christian County Board of Education said in a statement to Kentucky New Era. “Our students along with their parents and guardians are aware of dress code rules and the code’s enforcement.”

After this experience, Messer doesn’t want to return to Hopkinsville High School but would rather attend an online home school. Rucks, who thinks this all happened because Gunn wanted to make an example of her daughter, is with her on that.

“I’m not under any circumstances sending her back to that school,” she says.

In the meantime, Rucks’s friend who owns BlackFlag Clothing has been making “#gobacktothe1920s” shirts to support Messer.

We’ve reached out to the school for comment and will update this story when we hear back.

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