WEST MEMPHIS, Ark. — Students in West Memphis are taking a stand against a dress code they believe unfairly targets girls.
Tuesday, WREG spoke with two students at the Academies of West Memphis who say they feel targeted because a school official told them their clothes were distracting.
“I think our dress code is more targeted to women and stuff that we cannot help like our breasts and our butts,” said Mollie Bowers.
Photos show Bowers and her fellow junior classmate Kaydence Vandergriff wearing black leggings. One of them wearing a regular T-shirt and the other wearing a sweatshirt. Per the dress code, leggings are banned unless they are worn with a “long top.”
Both students say they were sent to in-school suspension last week. Once they tried to contact their parents on their cell phones, the girls say they were told they would get a two-day at-home suspension.
“It was really frustrating and I was missing my math period, a period I struggle in pretty bad so I needed to be there and they’re taking me out of my class to sit and argue with my parents,” Vandergriff said.
Kaydence’s parents said they were shocked when she called and school officials later alerted them her outfit was a distraction.
“If it’s a distraction for boys then that needs to be addressed on another issue and don’t punish my daughter for it,” Blake said.
“If that’s the main issue why dress code is such an issue because it’s such a distraction for the males at the school then there needs to be a breakdown for the males as well,” Amber said.
Initially, the two girls said administrators told them that they would be suspended for two days for not giving up their phones when they asked to call their parents. However, they said that didn’t end up happening and they spent the day in ISS with at least 10 other girls.
“All of these girls were fully completely clothed. None of them exposing anything,” Vandergriff said. “They didn’t really try to tell us that we were being distracting, but everyone knows it distracts the boys. You know, your butt’s out, they’re looking at it, and it was told to us that a trash bag would be better.”
According to the district’s student handbook, leggings are banned unless worn with a “long shirt.” It’s a policy the girls said was shared during a recent all-girls assembly.
“He stood up there and told us he understand how we feel, and no male understands what sexual discrimination against a woman feels like and it was just taunting,” Bowers said.
Bowers shared photos of students wearing trash bags joining their movement. There’s also a petition to change the dress code.
“It explains how we demand a change in our dress code because the dress code we have now is not fair and kind of discriminatory,” she said.
The West Memphis School District sent WREG the following statement:
“We are committed to providing a safe, inclusive, and nurturing educational environment that is conducive to student learning. Our annually approved dress code policy outlines appearance/apparel standards and penalties for violating the dress code. Leggings are included in this policy but can be worn with long tops.
Our schools conduct both grade-based assemblies and all student assemblies, these sessions are regularly segmented by male and female to ensure that students feel comfortable discussing sensitive subjects. The school conducted its grade level assemblies shortly after the start of the school and the female all grade assembly was held last week, with the boys all grade assembly scheduled for tomorrow.
Dress code violations are enforced at the school level and follow the rules outlined in our dress code policy. The first violation penalty is one day of in school suspension, the second is two days in school suspension, the third is three days of in school suspension with parent notification. If more than three incidents occur, the student receives on campus suspension and parent notification.
We are committed to an engaged student population and hope that students and parents will continue to provide feedback on our policies that can be shared with our School Board.” – Dr. Terrence Brown, Superintendent WMSD
The district said it will have its all-male assembly Wednesday.
If you would like to sign the petition, click here.