High School Teacher Publicly Shames Student for Dress Code Violation

Rachel Bertsche

What one high school junior wore to school this week would be considered modest by most — a khaki skirt and long sleeves with a collared shirt underneath — but at least one teacher at her school didn’t agree, forcing her to change her outfit with the threat of in-school suspension.

Carey Burgess, student body president of Beaufort High School, in Beaufort, S.C., posted a photo on Facebook showing the outfit she wore to school on Tuesday. In the caption, she explains that one teacher thought her skirt was too short, calling her out in front of her friends. In the post, which has been shared more than 10,000 times, Carey wrote, “Today, I wore this outfit to Beaufort High School. About 20 minutes into the day, my friend and I were excused from class to venture to the vending machine because our teacher was planning to do nothing all class period, as usual. On our way back, I learned something very important about myself: I am a whore. As I was walking down the hallway, I heard a voice behind me. ‘Your skirt is too short. You need to go to in-school suspension and then go home.’ Thank you, Mrs. Woods. Thank you for teaching me that looking good for school is NOT appropriate. Thank you for letting me know that while I may think that I am dressing up for my Teacher Cadet lesson, I am in fact dressing to go to a nightclub or the whore house. Thank you for bringing me to tears in front of my friends and classmates because you do not have the decency to pull me aside and explain the problem. Then again, I did not have the decency to put on real clothes today. So maybe I am in the wrong. Maybe our society isn’t yet advanced enough to handle 3 inches of my thigh. This is a patriarchal society and I am a woman. I have to be kept in my place, or I may do something that is so rarely seen in Beaufort High School — learn.”

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Carey goes on to cite other examples of what she calls “misogynistic views” at her school. She wrote, “How could I go on without a certain math teacher making sexist jokes all class? How could I survive without my science professor letting me know I am an inferior woman? Yes, I am a woman. I am woman with thighs, a butt, and a brain. I am bigger than Beaufort High School. All of us are. Maybe instead of worrying about my skirt, Beaufort High should take notice of its incompetent employees and sexist leaders.”

According to the Beaufort High School dress code, “shorts, dresses and skirts must be modest and of sufficient length (no more than three (3) inches above the knee when standing.)” The dress code also says bottoms must be khaki, black, or navy, free of graphics or embroidery and “may not exceed one size larger or smaller than necessary for a proper fit.”

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Beaufort High School principal Corey Murphy tells Yahoo Parenting that students who are in violation of the dress code are often sent to in-school suspension, where they are allowed to call their parents for a change of clothes before proceeding with their day. “I cannot discuss this student’s disciplinary actions, but I can say it was not the garment itself, but the way it was worn,” Murphy says. “The way it appeared in the Facebook photo, it would have been totally acceptable. Even in the photo she posted, you can see it appears to be different lengths. The way it appeared when my administrator stopped her was far shorter.”

In regards to Carey’s saying she was made to feel like a “whore,” Murphy clarifies that no teacher would ever use that language with a student. “We would not seek to disparage a child like that or say that word,” he says. “Even the student never said she was called that. She said she felt like that.”

Murphy also says that before reading Carey’s post, he wasn’t aware of any long-standing sexist attitudes at the school. “This is the first I’ve heard of it. The teachers she was referring to are extremely popular with both boys and girls at school. But we are definitely following up,” he says. “I have no issue investigating it, but [students should] address it with the school first if they want to make change.”

Responses to Carey’s Facebook post echo her sentiments regarding sexism in the school. “I think this reflects what a lot of Beaufort High students have been feeling for a long time, so good on you for pointing it out. I hope leadership sees this,” wrote one user. And from another former Beaufort High student: “The fact that I could name every teacher mentioned in this post goes to show that this is not an isolated incident. Since I’ve gone to college and started talking to people from other places, I’ve come to realize that my entire high school career was consumed with reform that did nothing to benefit the education. I hear other students here talk about all the opportunities they had in high school, and all I can say is I spent 4 years worrying about how which teachers interpreted each dress code rule and dressing to make sure I could get through all of my classes without getting sent home. That’s not what school is about, and I feel for all those still [there] sacrificing their personality for their education.”

Carey wasn’t available to respond to Yahoo Parenting’s questions about the incident because she was in school, but the 17-year-old, a recipient of the South Carolina’s Palmetto Fellows Scholarship for academically talented students, told BuzzFeed News that she ultimately changed her outfit on Tuesday afternoon. “I went to the front office and (rather embarrassingly) cried and called my mom to be sent home,” she said. “I have worn the same skirt at least a dozen times and have never had any trouble with it.”

After the post went viral, Carey posted a follow-up statement on Facebook apologizing to some teachers who shouldn’t have been associated with her post. “I would like to formally apologize to any teachers who feel grouped under my label of ‘incompetent,’” she wrote. “I’ve been fortunate to have many caring, intelligent, and personable teachers at Beaufort High. I did not aim my statement at any specific teacher; many are supporting me and I thank them for that.”

The intention of her post, she says, was to address a bigger problem than just the dress code. “Remarks like, ‘it’s because you’re a girl,’ or ‘we need a boy to be partners with this girl so she’s not lost,’ are fairly frequent in the classroom. Usually I laugh it off or roll my eyes, but one person can only bear so much for so long,” Carey told BuzzFeed News. “I am proud to have given a platform for so many girls to speak against the system.”

(Photo: Carey Burgess/Facebook)

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