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'Length of shorts more important than education': Sudbury students demand change to dress code

Some Grade 8 students in Greater Sudbury, Ont., said they were pulled out of class on Wednesday because school administrators called their outfits a distraction for boys.

Principal of St. Charles Catholic Elementary School to consult with students and staff on clothing rules

Tiffany Fahey, 14, said she was taken out of class on Wednesday for wearing a T-shirt with shorts that were cut higher than the dress code allowed by St. Charles Catholic Elementary School in Sudbury, Ont. (Olivia Stefanovich/CBC)

Some Grade 8 students in Greater Sudbury, Ont., said they were pulled out of class on Wednesday because school administrators called their outfits a distraction for boys.

Tiffany Fahey, 14, said she went to St. Charles Catholic Elementary School in the Chelmsford area wearing a black T-shirt and denim shorts that were cut higher than the dress code allows.

She said more than a dozen of her friends wore similar clothes, including tank tops. 

"It's the hottest day so far," Tiffany said. "We just wanted to see if we could change the dress code a little bit."

It climbed to 26 C on Wednesday, and Tiffany said her school does not have air conditioning. 

Is skin a distraction in the classroom?

Students are not allowed to have more than the width of approximately three finger tips showing skin on their thighs, according to Tiffany.

In addition to challenging the rules with her look, Tiffany said she put up posters on her locker that said: "We go to a school where the length of my shorts is more important than my education."

Another one read: "My education is more important than what I wear."

But the protest was short-lived. 

Tiffany said she was sent to the school's administrative office until her mom, Felicia Fahey, picked her up at noon. 

"Since when is skin or the human body supposed to be a distraction? They're [school] sexualizing the girls. Not the boys," Fahey said.

"They're making it an issue, and it's just not right."

'Opportunity for our staff and students to learn'

Tiffany agreed, and said she does not see anything distracting about her elbows or legs. 

"It's a body part," she said. "Every one's used to seeing them at the beach."

Tiffany is tall, and said she cannot easily find shorts that reach her knees.

She added she intends to continue dressing the way she feels comfortable. 

Joanne Bénard, the education director of the Sudbury Catholic District School Board, told CBC News on Thursday that it is not her understanding that educators called Tiffany's outfit a distraction.

She said Tiffany was taken out of class because her shorts were too short.

"We appreciate the concerns regarding the dress code that have been brought to our attention," Bénard wrote in an emailed statement.

"This is an opportunity for our staff and students to learn about the process of advocating for change."

Recommendations to be considered

The principal of St. Charles Catholic Elementary School will consult with students and staff on its dress code, according to Bénard.

She said recommendations will be brought to the school's council for consideration in fall 2017. 

Bénard explained that the board has a policy where all schools must adopt a student dress code that supports its mission and vision.

She added that the clothing rules align with a provincial code of conduct, which states: "Students must be neat, appropriately dressed and prepared for school."

Both Tiffany and and her mother hope the board will update its student apparel requirements soon because Fahey said the same clothing policy seems to have been in place since she attended the elementary school more than 30 years ago. 

"It's time that we need to update these dress codes to support the girls, not shun the girls," Fahey said. 

"They have rights. They have a right to education and a right to be proud of their body, and not have to be persecuted or made to feel ashamed of a shoulder showing or a leg showing."

About the Author

Olivia Stefanovich

Senior reporter

Olivia Stefanovich is a national reporter for CBC Saskatchewan on secondment from CBC Sudbury. She covers news from across the province for radio, TV and online. Connect with her on Twitter @CBCOlivia. Send story ideas to olivia.stefanovich@cbc.ca.