The girls at Tri-North Middle School had been fed up with the dress code for a while.
Shoulders had to be covered, shorts had to reach to the end of the fingertips and no excessively baggy clothes were allowed.
Less than a month before the end of the school year, one girl was “dress coded” for showing her shoulders while wearing a dress.
According to two female students at Tri-North, she was forced to sign a copy of the school’s dress code as a sort of contract.
“That was the last straw,” Erelyn Layden, an eighth grader at Tri-North said.
A group of eighth grade girls rallied around the cause and chose to protest what they considered sexist rules on the part of the school.
On the second to last Monday of the academic year, May 15, about 15 girls wore white shirts with the words “Not a distraction” written on the front.
Some of the shirts had additional phrases written on the back such as “I’m worth more than the length of my shorts.”
But the protest wasn’t enough.
Since every girl in the group is in eighth grade, they decided to do something for the next class before they all move on to high school.
After the protest, the girls set up a meeting with the guidance counselor about the school’s dress code policies.
With only two weeks of school left, the y were going to work on drafting a new dress code.
One that the Tri-North students find more fair and can be implemented long after the girls graduate.
The main changes include altering the no shoulder showing policy to requiring just one strap.
Shorts will no longer have to reach the end of the fingertips but will just have to cover the entire backside, eighth-grader Roxy Henry said.
Henry said some of the major changes she wanted to see from the dress code was getting rid of subjective language like “excessively”. Students aren’t permitted to wear excessively baggy clothing, but Henry said rules like that are up to the discretion of each teacher.
This could mean different enforcement for everyone.
In addition, Henry said they want more clearly defined rules on how teachers can and cannot enforce the dress code.
“When the dress code was being enforced it could be embarrassing because girls could get called out or pulled aside and it was very humiliating,” she said.
The group is working on revising the dress code with the guidance counselors.
Once they are finished, it will be submitted to the principal for review and approval.
There are also plans to have it presented to the school board in the hopes of spreading it to all schools in the Monroe County Community School Corporation, not just Tri-North.
But the girls have now finished middle school and will be moving on to high school.
Henry and Layden both said they were planning to continue to follow through on their plan even after they’ve moved on from Tri-North.
They added that many girls in the group plan to do the same.
“I am worried about moving on and losing our progress, but we’ve had a lot of support from seventh graders that are also concerned about the dress code,” Henry said. “We don’t want to abandon this issue when we move on.”
Roxy’s father, Chama Henry, said he was impressed by the girls’ motives.
They want to change the policy for the students that come after them. Instead of focusing on themselves, they are looking for long-term change, he said.
Chama said he found out about the protest about a week before they did it.
Roxy approached him and asked what he thought about it and whether he would be mad if she got in trouble.
He told her that he would support her and to go ahead and do what she felt was necessary.
“She hasn’t had an opportunity in the past, but she’s hit a point in her life where she has opinions and wants to make them known,” Chama said. “I feel like at their age they can’t vote yet, there’s certain things they can’t do, but when they have the opportunity to voice their opinions they’re going to go for it. They’re going to take an opportunity to change the world that way.”
Roxy said that is one of the things she learned most and wants others to learn from the experience and hearing about the protest.
She said young people have a voice and want to change things they find unfair or discriminatory.
“We want change,” she said. “We have that power too as long as we are united together to change what concerns us in our schools and our communities and our lives.”