'Tomboy' fights dress code banning girls from wearing pants at graduation: 'It's kind of insane'

Elise Solé

A teen “tomboy” changed the dress code at her high school that required girls to wear dresses at graduation.

Lacey Henry, 18, a senior at Cumberland Polytechnic High School in Fayetteville, N.C., convinced administrators to allow girls the option of wearing pants to their May 21 graduation, according to the Fayetteville Observer.

According to Henry, the school had strict commencement dress codes: Girls wore black dresses with hemlines no longer than their graduation robes, black closed-toe high heels and black pantyhose; boys wore black pants with black neckties and white shirts. (The aforementioned rules aren’t reflected on the district website, which reads, “Appropriate attire for graduation practices and the ceremony will be established at the school level. All requirements must be written in graduation correspondence shared with students and parents/guardians.”)

“It’s kind of insane — no one can see what’s under our graduation robes anyway,” Henry tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “Heavier students are always in violation because their clothing can be tighter in some places and guys show their bare chests. The district once barred a girl from attending her own graduation ceremony — even as an audience member — because she wore pants.”

Cumberland Polytechnic High School recently changed its graduation dress code, allegedly shown here, agreeing that girls can wear pants. (Screenshot: Courtesy of Lacey Henry)
Cumberland Polytechnic High School recently changed its graduation dress code, allegedly shown here, agreeing that girls can wear pants. (Screenshot: Courtesy of Lacey Henry)

“The administration is interrupting children’s education by making them leave class for violations — it’s harassment,” Lacey’s mom, Kathleen, tells Yahoo Lifestyle.

In mid-February, Lacey pulled her thoughts together in a Change.org petition that amassed at least 780 signatures. “As a young woman in 2019, the students expect freedom of dress and choice for their body, but instead, their bodies are over-sexualized and objectified,” she wrote. “It is time for Cumberland Polytechnic High School to step into this century and remove these patriarchal standards for their students.”

Henry wrote that distinguishing between boys and girls in the dress code violated federal law Title IX‘s sex- or gender-based discrimination clause.

Then she sent a letter to her principal and district superintendent, copying the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina. She received a fast response from principal Daniel J. Krumanocker Jr. that quoted a press release from the district promising to follow Title IX:

Cumberland Polytechnic High School revised its dress code, an alleged copy of which is shown above, allowing girls to wear pants at graduation — with a necktie. (Screenshot: Courtesy of Lacey Henry)
Cumberland Polytechnic High School revised its dress code, an alleged copy of which is shown above, allowing girls to wear pants at graduation — with a necktie. (Screenshot: Courtesy of Lacey Henry)

“Cumberland County Schools’ Regulation Code: 4316-R3 Graduation Student Dress Code provides guidance on regalia requirements for high school graduations. Some additional graduation attire guidelines are developed at the school level to ensure all students are dressed in a manner appropriate to the solemnity of the occasion. However, school-level graduation guidelines will not require students to conform to a specific type of attire based on their gender, and they will be fully compliant with Title IX and the Equal Protection Clause. We will continue to provide guidance to schools as they finalize their graduation guidelines for the Class of 2019.”

Krumanocker allegedly wrote that an updated dress code would be presented during a Feb. 12 school meeting.

Henry says the school allowed her to view and sign the revised rules on a PowerPoint presentation, a screenshot of which she sent to Yahoo Lifestyle. But the Henrys disagree with the amended language that requires anyone wearing pants to also wear a necktie. “It’s ridiculous to make girls wear ties,” says Kathleen. “It seems like the administration wants the last grasp of control over these kids.”

“It’s definitely a deterrent for girls,” Lacey tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “But I will wear pants and a tie.”

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