​Sask. students disciplined for clothing say staff should focus on education, not their bodies

Students at a northern Sask. school say they are being unfairly disciplined for what they are wearing. They say staff have called their clothing choices "distracting" and that the clothes make male teachers "uncomfortable."

Students allege staff said their bodies were 'distracting,' made male staff uncomfortable ​

Kadence Hodgson is a Grade 12 student at Rossignol High School. She wants to stand up for the younger students at the school who feel harassed and sexualized by staff because of what they are wearing. (Submitted by Kadence Hodgson)

Kadence Hodgson is pushing for change at her northern Saskatchewan high school, where staff are disciplining teens for dress code violations. 

Hodgson, 17, said the discipline isn't warranted. She's one of several students at Rossignol High school in Île-à-la-Crosse, about 375 kilometres northwest of Saskatoon, raising concerns about what students are being sent home for and the reasons provided by staff. 

"[Staff] said nothing that shows skin should be worn because it jeopardizes male teachers and it makes them uncomfortable."

That rationale makes the Grade 12 student uncomfortable. 

"It makes me feel like I'm sexualized. I'm not an object and they're treating me like one." 

Hodgson said several students have been sent home for wearing tight-fitting clothing, tank tops that show their shoulders or shirts that show a bit of their stomachs.

She said students are upset about how staff members are speaking to them about their clothing. Hodgson and other students said staff have made comments that the girls look like they are going to "bar," or that their breasts and bodies were "distracting."

Pictured are outfits students were wearing when they were 'dress-coded' at Rossignol High School last week. (Submitted by Kadence Hodgson)

A student in Grade 9 who has been dress-coded said "if our bodies and clothing are distracting to the males in our school, they shouldn't be teaching."

She didn't want to be named for fear of repercussions, but said "telling girls to cover their bodies just as they become young teens teaches them that their bodies are inappropriate … subject to constant scrutiny and judgment including by adults we are supposed to trust." 

Policy under review

Brenda Green, the director of education for the Île-à-la-Crosse School Division, said the division is aware of concerns regarding clothing. She did not respond to specific questions regarding the students' experiences, instead issuing a written statement. 

"We fully support the principal and staff in their efforts to ensure that the current policy is being adhered to in school, as is the case for all policies. Having said this, there are some concerns and allegations being raised that do not reflect the intent of the policy and the school division will be looking further into this matter."

Green said she was not "able to speak to any specific student or staff concerns or allegations to ensure privacy is respected for all parties involved." She said the existing policy is under review, and that they will seek input from students and staff. 

The current guidance on clothing for students doesn't mention skin or specific items of clothing, rather it states that clothing must "reflect good taste and judgment. Clothing should be neat, clean and inoffensive. Students who disregard this will be asked to go home."

Hodgson said the tension over clothing bubbled up last week after a young student was called out for wearing a close-fitting pink and white shirt with jeans.

The incident blew up on social media in the community. As the students resolved to speak out against this, Hodgson said staff started to send more girls home. She said that when she arrived at school after that incident, the principal was waiting in the front entrance and asked her, "what are you wearing under that sweater?" 

"A lot of other girls I know had that same experience," Hodgson said, adding it feels like harassment when they are asked to expose what they are wearing underneath something.

The principal for the school declined an interview and referred any questions to the director of education. 

Hodgson said she hopes to create a culture at the school that's more focused on learning, and less on the attire and bodies of students. 

"I want the girls at my school to feel safe and protected and not feel like they're being judged for their style [or] sexualized."