Saturday, June 10, 2017

Again with the Dress Codes and the Idiots in Charge.

It may be a little late in the year to start collecting nominations for the Curmie Award, which we missed altogether last year, but since education has been and will always be a central topic of Curmie’s blog, I’m going to talk about this story whether there’s an award nomination down the line or not.

Summer Bond in the offending garment,
It is, alas, a familiar story of high school dress codes and administrators who get their jollies by forcing students—well, some students—to conform to arcane, archaic, and profoundly sexist regulations. A young woman named Summer Bond (she’s identified only as “Summer” in all the news stories, but her lawyer uses her full name in a press release, so Curmie will do so, as well) was suspended and, apparently, not allowed to participate in her graduation ceremony from Hickory Ridge High School in Harrisburg, NC, presumably for wearing the shirt you see in the picture on the left. Yes, really. Or perhaps for “insubordination” for not prostrating herself before Petty Tyrant Executive Moron Principal Michelle Cline, bellowing mea culpas at the top of her lungs. Whatever. Fact is, it’s stupid.

Let’s get some stuff out of the way in a hurry. First, the dress code is (of course) an exercise in sexism. Girls mustn’t distract boys by, you know, looking attractive or fashionable. Obviously, there are legitimate functions of a dress code: no school wants gang signs or explicit bigotry on clothing, and it’s true that see-through tops or similar manifestations are at best unprofessional and at worst disruptive. OK, fine. But Curmie went to high school with some very beautiful young women who routinely (it being the ‘70s) wore skirts that wouldn’t come close to passing Hickory Ridge’s current dress code, and still managed to keep his mind on his courses. The “no cleavage” rule might work at a high school in North Carolina, but it wouldn’t last a day at virtually any university in the country. Curiously, students across the gender spectrum manage to concentrate.

We have further evidence of the gender-based nature of the school’s dress code in this reporting from WCNC in Charlotte: “earlier this year, 45 girls were brought into the principal’s office just because they were wearing leggings without shirts that were long enough.” (For the record, on any given day, about half the women in Curmie’s department would be similarly dressed.) Curiously, there are no reports from Hickory Ridge of boys violating the dress code. Go figure.

OK, Curmie gets it. The fact that high school dress codes are designed to blame girls for boys’ behavior is old news. Moving on. Other things to note up front:
  • The fact that Summer is an excellent student is irrelevant. She could be barely passing, and the injustice would be just as manifest.
  • She will, of course, graduate, although she may not walk. Even Michelle Cline isn’t stupid enough to risk the kind of damages that lawsuit would inevitably precipitate.
  • She was never in danger of losing (note correct spelling, please, multiple sources) her scholarship to “a major university.” Any university that would give any credence to the petulant grandstanding of a two-bit high school principal instead of Ms. Bond’s grades, board scores, and recommendations is unworthy of attendance.
  • There seems to be some history between Summer, her mom, and Principal Cline. This would appear to be at the center of the controversy.
Assuming the news reports are correct, here’s what happened: Principal Cline approached Summer at lunch (note that apparently no one had complained all morning), demanding that she put a jacket on over her top. Summer protested that there was nothing wrong with what she was wearing, but a friend loaned her a jacket, which she put on. We’re done, right? No, apparently that wasn’t enough, for reasons that aren’t entirely clear.  One source suggests that (according to Cline) Summer's lower back still wasn’t covered, making that top the strangest shaped garment in history, but whatever…

Anyway, Cline then demanded that Summer change clothes altogether, but—because of that chronic tension mentioned earlier—there was apparently an arrangement (or merely a maternal insistence?) that Summer could not be punished in any way without her mom being notified first. So, with the school’s inability to contact the mom, we’re done, right? Nope. Cline throws everyone else out of a school assembly, calls in an armed School Resource Officer, and threatens Summer with arrest (!) for… uh… well, something. The mom called the school back just in time, but Summer was still suspended for ten days and threatened with expulsion.

OK. Analysis time. Notice that the local story from WCNC says that the problem is that Summer’s shirt “rests just off the tops of her shoulders and exposes her collarbone.” The HuffPost article specifically states that Summer was “suspended for wearing a shirt that showed her collarbones.” Curiously (not really) the school’s vaunted dress code, which school officials would have us believe descended from Mount Sinai to a trumpet fanfare, has nary a word about collarbones. Imagine Curmie’s surprise. The closest thing to an actual violation on Ms. Bond’s part is in fact a pure judgment call: the dress code demands that “all shirts should adequately cover the upper body including the shoulders…” Summer’s shoulders were covered, but one might reasonably quibble over the definition of “adequately.” As a side note, the WCNC’s Tanya Mindes wore a shoulder-revealing top as she reported from the scene. One suspects that viewers were somehow able to listen to what she was saying. (Curmie has wondered repeatedly over the years about what is so inappropriate about shoulders: here, here, and here, for example.)

It’s also worth noting that a suspension of more than two days for a dress code violation is allowed only for the sixth offense, but that the same student handbook gives carte blanche to school administrators to do pretty much whatever they want for some pretty ill-defined offenses. It’s another “Fuck You, We’re the Administration” clause. The order of the violations which can lead to suspension is telling. Here are the most egregious violations:
  • 1. Being a persistent discipline problem.
  • 2. Failure to report to the Control Room.
  • 4. Disrespect to an Administrator.
More minor offenses—you know, stuff like actual crimes—are also included. Stealing is #11, vandalism is #12, bringing a weapon to school is #15, fighting is #16, drugs and alcohol #17. But the really important stuff to the school is at the top, and Curmie suspects that anything short of abject obeisance is going to be regarded by the likes of Michelle Cline as disrespect. It isn’t. Disrespect is what Curmie feels and expresses towards you, Ms. Cline, you heinous, bullying, buffoon.

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