Honors Student Punished for Revealing Shoulders in Dress

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Cameron Boland was stripped of her National Honor Society title for wearing this dress. (Photo: WINK News)

A mother whose 17-year-old daughter was stripped of her National Honor Society title for baring her shoulders during her election speech will appeal her daughter’s case at Tuesday night’s school board meeting.

Cameron Boland, a junior at Fort Myers High School in Florida, is the president of her class, captain of the basketball team, delegate for the leadership camp Girl State, and historian for her school’s National Honor Society chapter.  

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In early May, Cameron ran for historian of the National Honor Society for her entire county – an election she won. But less than an hour after earning the position – for which she ran unopposed – she was stripped of the title for a dress code violation. Namely, her spaghetti strap dress.

“That day she wanted to look nice and she wore her sundress – she had a jacket and she removed it because she was hot,” Cameron’s mother, Caroline Boland, tells Yahoo Parenting of the dress – which, when worn alone, is hardly revealing, especially given the sweltering temperatures in southwest Florida. “She usually wears jeans and t-shirts, but she wore the dress because it was an election, and she wanted to look presentable. It wasn’t an act of defiance or to be alluring, she wanted to look nice for the people voting.”

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But because the dress was deemed to have violated dress code, she was disqualified. “What my daughter has verbalized is, ‘they are valuing my shoulders more than my brain,’” Caroline says. Caroline has been fighting the ruling since it was first handed down, and Tuesday she plans to attend the school board meeting, where she has prepared a two-minute statement in hopes that her daughter will get reinstated – and receive an apology.

No one stopped Cameron from giving her speech in her sundress, and she won the election. “She sent me a text saying she was ‘super excited’ because now she was historian for the whole county,” Caroline says. “Forty-one minutes later she sent another text saying, ‘I was disqualified because my shoulders were bared and that is a dress code violation.’”

Cameron told her mother that she knew the school dress code called for shoulders to be covered up, but said she looked at the election – which took place at another school in the county – as a field trip. “Also, being an extracurricular activity an event, I didn’t feel a need to comply with the dress code,” Cameron told WINK News.

District officials told WINK that after the vote, students complained about Cameron’s outfit, and that’s when her election was overturned. Cameron asked if she could put on her jacket, apologize, and deliver her speech to the electorate again, and was told she could not. Ultimately, since Cameron ran unopposed, a student who didn’t originally run for the position was named historian.

The school district of Lee County’s code of conduct does not specify that bare shoulders are not allowed, but does say that “apparel shall be adequate in both length and coverage to be considered appropriate for school” and that “transparent or see-through tops, bare midriff, strapless, low-cut clothing, or tops and outfits that provide minimum coverage or are of a suggestive nature are prohibited; halters, backless dresses or tops, tube tops, tank tops, muscle shirts, or any clothing which may be distracting are prohibited.”

Violation of the dress code, according the handbook, will result in a “verbal warning and parent contact.” Cameron’s mother was not contacted, and she says the school should have followed its own protocol. “Nowhere does it say an election would be overturned, or that the votes of other students are negated,” she says. “This is beyond being stripped of a title. What about the folks that voted for her? They were sent to an election, they vote, their candidate is stripped – essentially stripping their vote – for a rule that no one can support.”

Officials from the school district of Lee County provided Yahoo Parenting with the following statement: “The dress code is an implied expectation for events during the school day, as was indicated by the more than three dozen students that were in dress code on this day, including all other students from Ft. Myers High. It is not unusual for school clubs and groups, where membership is a privilege, for sponsors to articulate and expect a higher level of commitment to school rules, including following a well-known dress code. That aside, this was a decision among NHS advisors from each school, including that of their own advisor at Ft. Myers High School. The decision to reinstate would likewise be a decision among NHS advisors. It is uncertain when the advisors will meet again as a group or if their school Principals will ask them to reconsider the decision.”

But Caroline says other students at the election were in violation of dress code, but only those with bare shoulders were targeted – Cameron and one other student, who was stripped of her election as National Honor Society President but who has asked not to be named. “There is an express dress code forbidding leggings and there were girls in leggings, if we’re going to be sticklers about it,” Caroline says. She also points out that no officials from Fort Myers High School were at the elections. “The National Honor Society advisor from her school didn’t attend the election – no adult, teacher or advisor attended. They sent her with two other students in her car, alone.” Cameron’s advisor was consulted only by phone, according to ABC 7.

Despite repeated attempts to contact the school and address the situation, Caroline says she’s been told nothing other than to “just drop it.” But she’s not accepting that. “If we’re not supporting our kids – our best and brightest – who are we supporting?” she says. “I couldn’t be prouder of Cam. The fact that she has all these other commitments and she still wanted to participate in this leadership opportunity, and that she’s not crying over this, she’s just saying ‘this runs counter to everything we learned about democracy,’ I could not be prouder.”

But the issue is bigger than just Cameron, Caroline says. “If we live in a world where a shoulder can incite such a reaction , what are we telling our kids?”

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