'Shocking' Letter Shames Girls' Bodies at Graduation Ceremony

Rachel Bertsche

This letter, distributed to seniors at Biglerville High School, calls for a dress code – including keeping “the girls” covered and warning against “sausage rolls.” (Photo: Facebook/Bri Burtop)

A letter sent home to students regarding graduation dress code at one high school has sparked outrage this week, and caused the school to issue a public apology.

Seniors at Biglerville High School in Biglerville, Penn., will put on their caps and gowns to receive diplomas Friday night, but for the awards ceremony beforehand, students can wear outfits of their choosing. A letter distributed to students this week outlines the dress code for the event, explaining, “you will be the center of attention and all eyes will be on you. … This whole day is about pride and dignity. Show the world that you have both.”

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But the language detailing what female students should wear rubbed some people the wrong way. The letter included directions such as “keep ‘the girls’ covered” and “we don’t want to be looking at your ‘sausage rolls.’” Regarding the fit of clothing, the letter says, “Make sure that nothing is so small that all your bits and pieces are hanging out. … As you get dressed remember that you can’t put 10 pounds of mud in a five-pound sack.”

Bri Burtop, a senior at Biglerville High School, says she was offended by the language used in a letter distributed to students this week. (Photo: Facebook/Bri Burtop)

Bri Burtop, an 18-year-old graduating senior, says she was “shocked” by the letter. “I was really surprised by it, and the more I thought about it the more I thought it was wrong for a school to talk to its students like that,” she tells Yahoo Parenting. “But I thought maybe I was overreacting.”

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That is, until she posted a photo of the letter on Facebook. Alongside the photo, she included the caption: “Keeping it classy Biglerville High School … I didn’t know it was okay to insult your female students. Weight shouldn’t be used for comedic relief.” Reaction to the post was swift, getting 185 shares and more than 200 comments, many of which called the letter “ridiculous,” “wrong,” “inappropriate” and “unprofessional.”

Burtop says she agrees with the message of the letter – but it’s the language she takes issue with. “I definitely think that you should dress appropriately and modestly for graduation. It’s a classy event and parents will be there.  But I don’t think that the school should tell you they don’t want to look at your sausage rolls,” she says. “We are graduating and some of us will go into the workforce and some will go to college and then to a professional career, so we should know how to dress. But we’re young adults, we understand the meaning of ‘please keep it appropriate, no short skirts, keep yourself covered.’ They could have worded it that way.”

She also says the letter targets female students. “Notice how the females’ dress code is twice as long as the males’, and we’re not permitted to wear jeans but they are,” she wrote on Facebook. She added: “If a girl feels confident in what she is wearing, who cares if she has ‘sausage rolls.’ [There] is nothing offensive or inappropriate about that. Are you going to buy them a new dress because they can’t afford one themselves? No, of course not. Are you going to publicly shame them for something they feel pretty in? Probably.”

On Wednesday, the school issued a public statement: “The Administration of the Upper Adams School District is aware that a document titled ‘Proper Attire & Etiquette for Awards Program and Graduation’ was distributed to the senior class on May 26. The Administration acknowledges that some individuals have found certain language in the document to be inappropriate or in poor taste. The document was drafted years ago, and the author of the original document has since retired. The document does not reflect the high standards of the Upper Adams School District, and the Administration will take appropriate action to address the issue. While we regret that the document contained some unfortunate word choices, we do respect all students and hope this does not distract from the dignity of the graduation ceremony and the accomplishments of our graduating class.”

The statement implies that the letter has been used in previous years, and Burtop says she imagines other girls were offended but perhaps didn’t want to take on the administration, or didn’t take the letter seriously.  “I think students assume it was a joke – which I think it was meant to be,” she says. “I don’t think the school intended to hurt anyone. But I think some girls were hurt. And I think some students didn’t want to put in the effort to change it.”

Burtop, who will attend Harrisburg Area Community College next year to study criminal justice, says she’s pleased the school plans to change the letter. “They also say they are putting a policy in place that documents will be read over before being distributed,” she says. “I did get what I want, which was for the letter to be changed.”

Though Burtop says she has received some heat from classmates who didn’t want the negative attention on the school, she has also gotten support from other female students in her same boat. “I had a lot of girls come up to me and say thank you,” she says. “Which made me feel good.”

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