Several hundred students protested in front of Béatrice-Desloges high school in Orléans Friday to express their outrage over a “dress code blitz” that featured girls being pulled out of their classes to have the length of their shorts checked.
The protesting students went back to class around 1 pm after superintendent of education Jason Dupuis arrived and spoke to them. Dupuis said The Council of Catholic Schools of Center-Est will invest their concerns and is reviewing dress codes.
Ottawa Police monitored the protest, and said they arrested one youth, who was not a student, for trespassing and causing a disturbance. He was escorted off school property and released without charge, police said.
Teenagers at the walkout chanted for administrators to respect them and held signs – in French – asking if their clothes were more important than their education and saying young women should not be sexualized.
Several students said school administrators at Béatrice-Desloges went into classrooms Thursday looking for violations of the dress code, including a rule that shorts or skirts must extend to “mid-thigh.”
Several girls said they were called into the hallway or down to the office for their shorts to be inspected and some were told to go home and change.
Several said they were humiliated and outraged over both the dress code and the enforcement of it.
Melanie Lalonde, 16, said “they pulled girls out of class and lined them up.”
“I had ’90s shorts on, very baggy, and they told me my shorts were too short.”
Lalonde said girls should be allowed to wear shorts and tank tops without being “body shamed.”
“We want to be able to dress comfortably for the weather and for ourselves and not get humiliated.”
Sophie Labbée, a Grade 12 student, said the principal came into her classroom saying she wanted to talk to students whose outfits were “inappropriate” and asked them to follow her to the office.
“I figured she meant me,” said Labbée, who was wearing shorts. She said she has been “dress-coded” multiple times over the past six years.
The principal demonstrated a “trick” to determine if your shorts are too short, Labbée said. The principal asked Labbée to raise her leg to a 90 degree angle, then put a clipboard on her knee and touched her thigh where the clipboard ended, saying it was the proper length, Labbée said.
Labbée said she was uncomfortable because she didn’t like the school’s official touching her. But mainly she was “frustrated and angry.”
“Why does this person have an issue with my body and my shorts?
“I just walked out of school, I didn’t want to put up with it, it was so ridiculous.
“It’s always the same story, over and over,” Labbée said. “They always say,‘ it’s not about you and your body. It’s about other people. ‘
“I don’t understand why my body should make other people uncomfortable. If I was only 13, and being told my body was making other people uncomfortable, is this an appropriate thing to say to a child? ”
Melisande Ouellette, 17, said she was in math class when the principal arrived. “She asked all the girls to stand up. She picked off me and this other girl. ” They were asked to go to the hallway, and told their shorts were “inappropriate.”
“It was very embarrassing.”
Ouellette said she was told to wait in the office, then the library, and could not return to class until someone delivered her clothes. ‘I was like’ OK, I’m sorry, but I’m just in math class right now and math is very important. ‘ ”
Her parents were not available and it took a couple of hours for her to be brought sweat pants, she said.
Ouellette said she missed two classes.
Parent Holly Patterson was standing outside the school Friday, cheering the students. “I’m very proud of them for what they are standing up for,” she said.
When her 13-year-old son told her about the dress-code blitz, she was astounded, Patterson said.
“They come to school to get an education and because of some archaic rules about what women should and should not wear, they are missing their education.
“Nothing is wrong with shorts and spaghetti straps. Since when did it become degrading for a woman to show her shoulders? ”
The dress code at Béatrice-Desloges says clothing must be “clean, decent and appropriate.”
Pants, shirts and shorts must be “an appropriate length (mid-thigh)” and worn so that underwear does not show.
Tops must cover the “upper body completely,” cover shoulders “by an appropriate width” and worn so undergarments cannot be seen.
“Headgear” can be worn but not in the classroom, office or gym; sunglasses are banned except for “medical reasons”; and pajamas are forbidden.
Dress codes are set by each school in consultation with parents, staff and students, said Superintendent Dupuis. The dress code at Béatrice-Desloges was revised last fall to make it clear that the rules applied regardless of gender, he said.
The school board is investigating the concerns raised by the students, he said.
“We’ve heard them, we’ve listened to them, and we are going to go forward from here and build a positive relationship and make changes if we have to.”
The board does not condone any dress code enforcement that involves touching or humiliating students, he said.
Dupuis said he was conducting fact-finding about what happened at the school on Thursday, but there was no indication that any students were asked to “bend over” so their shorts could be measured – a story circulating among students – or that rulers were used to measure.
A letter was sent to parents at Béatrice-Desloges on Thursday night after some complained about the dress-code blitz.
Parents were reminded about the dress code in April, and students were also informed about what was acceptable, said the letter from director Marie-Claude Veilleux.
During the blitz, some students were asked to go into the hallway to clarify whether they were meeting the code, but administrators respected the dignity of students, said the letter, which was written in French.
The letter said the enforcement may have led some to conclude that students were targeted, and apologized if any offense was taken as it was not intended.
The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board recently removed the policy of allowing each school to adopt a dress code. Instead, a universal code was adopted that does not include any references to lengths of skirts or types of tops.
The new dress code “recognizes that all students have the right to express themselves fully in school through their choice of clothing, hair styles, jewelry, and accessories.”
The policy prohibits clothes that depict violence, profanity, discriminatory, hateful or or pornographic images or slogans, or promote alcohol and drug use.
– With files from Lynn Saxberg