Essex High School student suspended over dress code protest

An Essex District High School student has been suspended for protesting the school’s dress code, after she says several of her friends were sent home or told to change because their bra straps were showing.

The issue centres around whether girls should face discipline or correction for exposed bra straps

Mallory Johnston is frustrated about the dress code at school and wanted to do something about it. (Meg Roberts/CBC)

An Essex District High School student has been suspended for protesting the school's dress code, after she says several of her friends were sent home or told to change because their bra straps were showing.

Mallory Johnston, a Grade 10 student, spent Monday night making a dozen posters that she hung on school walls the next day.

She and her friends were upset because of what they believe is a pattern of discipline or correction against girls for exposed bra straps.

Johnston said she can count at least six girls who've been called out recently. The rule is the student must find another shirt or go home.

Some of the messages written on her posters said, "Stop objectifying women," "I go to school where the length of my shorts are [sic] more important than my education," and "Dress code perpetuates rape culture."

"They ripped them down," said Johnston, referring to school administrators.

She also pointed out students were learning about gender equality and body shaming in gym class only days before.

Mallory Johnston is protesting her school's dress code. 0:16

"They told us we couldn't take [the posters] back, we couldn't have them, they weren't appropriate."

Johnston said she was later called to the office and suspended.

"I was more angry than upset, because I was simply standing up for something that I believe in, which we are taught to do in school but then I got disciplined for it and I didn't know why," the 15-year-old said.

Another protesting student disciplined

Gracelynn Wood, a Grade 10 student, said she was called to the office as well on Tuesday, after she purposely exposed her bra straps in protest of the dress code.

Gracelynn Wood purposely wore her bra straps exposed to school in protest of the dress code. (Meg Roberts/ CBC)

She refused to put on a different shirt and was sent to detention until her mother could pick her up.

"They are taking us out of our classes just because of a bra strap. Really?" said Wood.

"I think it is degrading because [administration] doesn't point out the boys, it's always about the girls."

Wood said people from other schools have been reaching out to the group of students involved, saying similar things are happening in their schools.

A petition has started to circulate around the school and students are using #takeastand on social media.

School response

Mike Hawkins, the school's principal, said he cannot speak about specific incidents involving a student but did say, "Anyone needs approval to post anything around the school."

Hawkins said the dress code, "is clearly outlined," and it is "not a male or female issue."

The dress code can be found online in the student handbook. It states, in all cases, administration will decide whether or not students are adhering to the dress code standards.

Clothing like spaghetti straps or halter tops for girls and tank tops for boys are not allowed. Students are not allowed to wear revealing back or midriff shirts and no short-shorts.

There is no mention of bra straps.

Hawkins also said the school "gives anyone the opportunity to review any of the school's policies" and during his four years at Essex High, proposed changes have never been brought to him by parents or students.

Mother plans to file complaint

Roberta Strickland, Mallory's mother, is planning to file a complaint with the public school board.

She said her daughter has never had a detention before ─ let alone been suspended ─ but she couldn't be more proud of her daughter.

"I will stand by her 100 per cent again. She is doing the right thing and she's not just doing it for herself, she is doing it for every girl at Essex High."