British Columbia

The right to bare arms: Students launch 'crop top protest' against dress code

Fourteen-year-old Sophie Harris and her classmates showed up to class at Trafalgar Middle School Tuesday morning with midriff-baring tops and shorts for a “crop top Tuesday protest” to draw attention to what they say is discriminatory dress code.

14-year-old Sophie Harris says she was told to change because her outfit was “distracting” to male classmates

Students at Trafalgar Middle School in Nelson wore shorts and high-rise shirts to school Tuesday in protest of the school's dress code. (Bob Keating/CBC)

Fourteen-year-old Sophie Harris and her classmates showed up to class at Trafalgar Middle School in Nelson Tuesday morning wearing midriff-baring tops and shorts to draw attention to what they say is a discriminatory dress code.

Harris was disciplined Monday for violating the school's dress code with her denim shorts and form-fitting tank top. She said she was told that her choice of clothes could be distracting for the boys at her school. 

"I didn't appreciate being told by a male authority figure that my outfit was distracting to boys because, frankly, that is the boys' problem and not mine," Harris told CBC's Daybreak South host Chris Walker.

Harris said she chose her outfit with the 30 C weather in mind and checked the length of her shorts before leaving home. Within minutes of arriving at school, Harris was called into the vice principal's office and told to change.

"He told me, and this is a direct quote, 'We have 11 and 12-year-old boys here and we can't have you dressed like that,'" Harris said.

Sophie Harris posted on Instagram a photograph of the outfit she was told violated her school's dress code. (Sophie Harris/Instagram )

Unequal enforcement of the dress code

Harris was adamant her outfit did not break school rules and believes the enforcement of the dress code is unfair.  

"Girls at our school are dress coded for the smallest of offences such as showing a bra strap or your shoulder," Harris said. "The guys play a game at lunch to see how low they can wear their pants without them falling off yet they never get coded."

Kootenay Lake School District Superintendent Jeff Jones said Harris' clothes might not have been the problem. He wasn't there when Harris was disciplined but talked to the vice principal about the incident.

"I think that it wasn't the clothing that was deemed inappropriate, it was how the clothing was on the student," he said.

Harris denied she was wearing her shirt tied up above her bellybutton and posted a photo of the outfit on Instagram, where it sparked a social media firestorm.

Peaceful protest leads to change

The student protesters at Trafalgar Middle School say they aren't trying to eliminate the dress code, they just want it to be equally enforced between male and female students.

"We accept management has the right to manage and abide by school rules but only if the rules are equal," said Sabine Edney, one of Harris' crop top-wearing classmates.

The school principal's Carol-Ann Leidloff said the peaceful crop top protest was a good exercise in democracy.

"I think the students here have taken a stand to make sure their voices are heard," Leidloff said. "They've done it peacefully, they've done it respectfully so we will move forward with them."

Leidloff said she will sit down with the protesting students this week and review the dress code.

To listen to the interview with Sophie Harris, click on the audio link below.

With files from Daybreak South and Bob Keating.