A professor at Memorial University in St. John's says the teenage girls who were sent home from school for wearing clothing considered contrary to the dress code are scapegoats, and that the male students and teachers they apparently were distracting should be the ones under the microscope.
Patricia Dold, head of the department of gender studies, said there's a fine line in dictating what teenagers should and shouldn't wear.
On Thursday, CBC News reported on a group of students at Menihek High School in Labrador City who were sent home for violating the school's dress code. Some of the 28 girls sent home were wearing tank tops that revealed bra straps.
'If you're distracted, who's fault is that? Instead of addressing the people who are distracted, they're doing something to other people' - Patricia Dold, professor at Memorial University
Two male students were also sent home for wearing sleeveless shirts that exposed their shoulders.
According to Dold, the English School District of Newfoundland and Labrador is placing the blame on the wrong group.
"The school seems to be saying these young women are presenting themselves in a way that's sexual, and also unacceptably sexual and yet ... [the students] said, 'No, it's just a warm day,'" said Dold.
"In punishing the female students, or restricting their dress, you are, I guess, kind of making them a scapegoat. If you're distracted, whose fault is that? Instead of addressing the people who are distracted, they're doing something to other people."
Not about exclusion
Darrin Pike, CEO of the provincewide English school board, said the goal of the dress code implemented by any school isn't to exclude any group, but to make an environment as comfortable as possible for everyone.
"There is no intention here to draw attention to the boys versus the girls. Certainly, we wouldn't accept that or tolerate that," said Pike.
"It's about encouraging appropriate dress for the school environment, for a learning environment. What we try to do is teach the students that for different occasions, you wear different types of clothing."
Pike said it's part of a school's task to show students how to present themselves appropriately in their environment.
"Our focus would be around wearing clothes that's appropriate for a learning environment, making sure that we help students learn that as you transition through school and onto the workplace that the clothes that you wear respects the values of people around you, respects the diversity of the community that we live in ... so it's really about respecting others, as well as respecting yourself," said Pike.
Students say time for change
Students at high schools in St. John's said now might be the time for the province's school board to revisit the dress code.
"I guess if there's a cute girl you're going to look, obviously, but it's not like you're just going to stand there and stare at the person," said Oisin Hogan.
Student Casia Parsons said the issue is being looked at from the wrong angle.
"That shouldn't be something that we have to change, it should be taught differently that they shouldn't be distracted by it," she said.
Dold said there's more to be considered if distraction is really a problem.
"I can't say whether or not male students and male teachers are being distracted, but I don't really buy it because it seems to me if they're distracted by a tank top that reveals bra straps ... then what about a pair of tight-fitting jeans or a skirt that shows a bit of leg?" she said.
"There are all kinds of things about the way many young women — and older women, too — choose to dress that a school might declare to be distracting, so I don't fully buy it."
Dold said that the school should have an open conversation with students about the issue.