The mother of a Vista Middle School student is pushing for dress-code policy changes after school staff said her daughter’s T-shirt didn’t fit appropriately.
Isschar Strode, 31, said she had no idea the T-shirt her daughter, Alex Henry, 12, wore to her second day of seventh grade on Thursday would be considered inappropriate. The tie-dye shirt, which Alex got from the school for a tie-dye project last year, is Alex’s favorite, Strode said, and often gets washed about four times a week.
But when Alex returned home Thursday, Strode said, she was less chipper than usual, and went straight to her bedroom. When Strode asked about the white shirt she was wearing underneath the tie-dye shirt, Alex said school staff had asked her to put it on.
When Strode asked her daughter why, Alex hung her head and said, “I don’t know.”
Strode learned the next day in a phone call with Heather Leighton, Vista’s principal, that Alex’s shirt, staff had determined, hung too low in the front while she hunched over to do schoolwork.
But what perplexed Strode the most, she said Friday, was that no one from the school had notified her. Alex, Strode said, has a learning disability, and struggled to grasp what had happened.
“The school could’ve called me and I would’ve talked to my daughter,” Strode said. “I would’ve gone down there in a heartbeat and brought her some of her own clothes. I’m blown away by their lack of communication.”
Beyond the communication issue, Strode said she felt the school’s policy sexualized young girls. She took to Facebook to air her frustrations Thursday evening, posting two photos of Alex – one in only the tie-dye shirt and another with the white shirt underneath.
“The only thing that shows is a scar from open heart surgery and her collar bones,” Strode wrote in the post, which had been shared nearly 1,600 times as of Monday evening.
When The Bellingham Herald reached Leighton by phone Monday, she said she couldn’t give specifics about what had happened Thursday.
“I realize a situation happened and we are looking into it and we are trying to figure out ways to make our system better,” she said.
Ferndale School District Superintendent Linda Quinn called a meeting Monday afternoon with principals and assistant principals at the district’s four middle and high schools. Attendees agreed that, moving forward, principals and assistant principals would be the only staff members to decide whether an outfit is appropriate, said Scott Brittain, assistant superintendent for teaching and learning.
Brittain said more meetings were planned – possibly for later this week – and added that parents would be included in the discussion as well.
The district – and Vista Middle School – has been criticized for its dress-code policy before. Just last year, a group of eighth-grade girls protested the school’s dress code, saying they had been unfairly forced to change out of clothes that school staff said were too distracting for boys.
Quinn said later that year that the district would “recalibrate” how it enforces its dress code.
Changes have been made, Quinn said Monday, “to make sure our dress code isn’t sexist.”
“We’ve reviewed it all to make sure the dress code we have is consistent for both boys and girls,” she said. “If we’re going to talk about one sex being distracted by the other, that seems to be one-sided and we’re not going to have references like that in our dress code.”