The principal at Ebbsfleet Academy in Kent, England, took drastic measures recently to ensure that the high school’s uniform dress code is taken seriously, says The Independent. Alison Colwell refused entrance to 20 teenage girls on their first day back to school because the students’ skirts were almost two inches above their knees, leaving the teens out on the street. The Daily Mail, though, puts the number of girls denied at the door at “around 200.”
Defending her decision, Colwell said, “We have a clear uniform policy that we enforce. Our rules are no stricter than most schools, it’s just that we are consistent in enforcing them,” according to the publication. She added, “The tiny minority of parents who choose to defy us, and our rules, are a minority — it’s a curious parent who thinks it is acceptable for teenage girls to flash large amounts of thigh, or worse.”
But some of those parents who apparently defied the school’s rules by sending their daughters to class in above-the-knee skirts felt the punishment did not fit the crime — and that it could have had a dangerous outcome. One dad, Terry Joseph, whose 14-year-old daughter Nicole attends the school, told The Independent, “They put out quite a few girls and boys out of the school without their parents’ knowledge; there were children walking the streets of Kent, perhaps some without anywhere to go.”
Joseph added that, although he personally felt his daughter’s skirt was not too short, he understood and didn’t have a problem with the principal’s push to enforce the dress code, but felt that a heads-up would have been more appropriate than leaving the young ladies out in the cold, unsupervised. He told the publication that “nobody was made aware [of the dress code] at the end of term. The first time I knew about it was when my daughter came back on Tuesday.” This conflicts with Colwell’s suggestion that the code was already in place before the first day of school. It also contradicts The Daily Mail‘s account that Colwell sent home 5 percent of students for breaching dress code back in 2013.
However, a mother, Kim O’Brien, pointed out on Facebook that her 15-year-old daughter was denied entry for wearing the very same skirt she’d worn last term without incident. She wrote, “The school sent letters home before Christmas asking us to check that our daughters’ skirts weren’t more than five centimeters above the knee. My daughter turned up to school today in her old school skirt, which she’s never had a problem with before, and they told her to stand to one side and wouldn’t let her in. There’s nothing wrong with her skirt, it’s sensible and the right length — she came in a minute ago and it isn’t that short,” according to The Daily Mail.
A community mental health nurse, O’Brien feels the school is mistreating vulnerable children, “particularly those who may have nowhere else to go. There are a lot of children in the community who will have had a crap Christmas, they’re very vulnerable and don’t have things like heating and now the school are turning them away,” she said. “What if they get run over, raped, or attacked? It’s bitterly cold and kids who can’t get home will be left on the streets.”
Another mother, Charlene O’Hara, whose 16-year-old attends Ebbsfleet Academy, claims that this sends a message that uniforms are more important than education, and she can’t understand that logic. “A lot of the girls are in year 11 and they’re being kept away from their work — they’ve got exams coming up and every lesson is vital,” O’Hara told The Daily Mail.
She added that she wouldn’t be able to make it to the uniform supplier for a week, which means her daughter will be missing out on her education. “I told them my daughter was missing out on valuable learning time but she was sent home again today,” she told the publication on Wednesday. She added that as a mother of five, buying Christmas presents was challenging enough, “and now you’re expecting me to buy another new skirt,” she told the publication. “If they were OK in December, why aren’t they now,” she asked.
O’Brien told The Daily Mail that she’s tried to email the school to arrange for a meeting when this happened in the past but isn’t getting a reply. She claims she can’t even figure out who is in charge of communicating with parents. “I pay my tax for my child to go to school and I just don’t know who is responsible for things,” she said. The Daily Mail says that one of those earlier incidents, in which students were turned away in September, didn’t have to do with dress code, but rather “rule infringements such as drawing on eyebrows and colored shoe tags.”
Aside from defending her decision to enforce the rules, Colwell praised her faculty in a statement, saying that the school’s strong leadership “has led to higher academic standards, better behaviour, and increased attendance.”