Students sometimes go to extreme measures to make a point. One sixth-grader in Portland, Maine, decided to send a message to her teachers by writing a note on her arm at school to express the fact that she was not comfortable with the school’s dress code.
After being admonished by a teacher in front of other students on Monday for wearing a racerback tank top, Molly Neuner of King Middle School once again decided to disobey the code on Wednesday and wear a tank top — writing ‘#IAMNOTADISTRACTION’ on her arm, according to the Portland Press Herald.
At the start of the week, a teacher allegedly told Neuner to measure and ensure the straps of her top were two fingers wide; when the teacher found out they were not, she told Neuner to put on an outer garment, and explained that disciplinary action would be taken for her next infraction.
“She made us feel really uncomfortable,” Neuner told the Press Herald. “It was really uncomfortable and weird.” Her mother also echoed her sentiments. “It’s so crazy. Is it 1960? What is going on? What does the strap have anything to do with her education?” she told the publication.
The student’s discomfort inspired her to send a message to her school on Wednesday, and at least 20 of her classmates followed suit — also wearing clothing not in line with the dress code.
Neuner’s mother shared an Instagram photo of her daughter showing off the phrase written on her arm, and reflected on why the topic was so important to them in the caption.
“Some may read this and think it’s “just a strap” or that “rules were meant to be followed” or that “girls should cover up” or — my personal favorite — “it’s a distraction to boys.” But my question to you is, Why? Why do you feel like this? Why do you jump to those conclusions?” she wrote. “It’s because of what we are taught. We have been taught to mask our own feelings and stay small and not make waves. We are taught that our bodies are inherently sexual objects that WE need to cover so WE stay safe.”
She urged her followers to take a stand for children. “We need to stand up for ourselves and for our children. We need to teach our beautiful, young, innocent daughters that their bodies are beautiful and powerful and their own to display or portray in any way they wish WITHOUT consequence,” she wrote. “And we need to teach our young, kind, brave sons that they are smart and strong and capable of controlling their own bodies.”
Her mother also shared details about what questions her daughter’s classmates had about the dress code at the middle school. “The students in my daughter’s class had a meeting to review dress code,” she wrote. “In that meeting there were many questions about the girls rules and when one of the students asked why the girls had so many rules they were told that it was because they were a distraction to the boys… I’ll let that sink in for a minute… And while the school has assured us that this is not the opinion of the school, the dress code still stands in place until the end of the year. This is not just about a tank top, it’s about years of underlying messages of shame to our girls that MUST stop.”
The students’ dress code protest actually seemed to open the administration’s eyes, as the middle school is now planning to review and possibly make changes to the code. “We plan to take this feedback and use it as an opportunity to have some students’ and parents’ input,” the school’s principal, Caitlin LeClair, told the Press Herald.
The code prohibits a number of garments, and states that students should “keep themselves well groomed and neatly dressed at all times.”
“Bandanas, hats, sport sweatbands, pajama pants, short or tight-fitting skirts or shorts, (no shorter than finger-tip length) thin strapped, revealing tops (like tube tops, halter tops or low cut tops) on girls and tank tops on boys or other similar items of clothing will not be permitted,” the King Student Handbook reads. The districtwide code also calls for students to not wear anything that might cause “material and substantial disruption” in the classroom.
However, Portland’s school superintendent, Xavier Botana, told the Press Herald that he believes the guideline needs more clarification.
“I don’t believe we should be dictating fashion or measuring the length of shorts if it’s not a material and substantial distraction,” Botana said. “I would be hard pressed to understand how the size of a strap makes a substantial and material disruption.”
Although King Middle School’s dress policy will not be modified — if at all — until next year, Neuner was excited about the progress and aout her about classmates joining in on her protest of the dress code. “It was so cool to see everyone doing it,” she told the Herald. “I’m happy they’re going to look at it, but I want to make sure they really do it.”
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