DRYDEN, N.Y. — A 17-year-old senior at Dryden High School has been suspended from school for two days for not covering up after the school said her shirt was inappropriate.
On Wednesday, Madison Kidney was told what she was wearing was distracting and revealing, her mother Erin Kidney told The Ithaca Voice. Madison Kidney was told if she did not cover up, she would be sent home. She refused to cover up and her mother was called. After speaking with Principal Patrick Mahunik, Kidney said she was handed a letter which said Madison was receiving an “out-of-school suspension” for an incident just described as “insubordination.”
The shirt was inappropriate, her mother said she was told, because the stitching of her bra was visible. Madison borrowed the shirt and jeans she was wearing from her younger sister, who has worn the same clothes to school, Erin said.
School officials and Madison also clashed Tuesday over her clothing. Kidney said her daughter was told she was in violation of the dress code for not wearing a bra. In response, Madison did cover up with another shirt Tuesday.
The suspension letter, signed by Mahunik, says the suspension does not count as a student absence and while suspended, Madison is not allowed on school property without his permission. It further says she will have the opportunity to complete any missed assignments upon returning to school.
Below is a video posted on Facebook on Wednesday by Erin Kidney of what Madison was wearing to school to get disciplined. Story continues after video.
The dress code for Dryden High School states in part that “attire must comply with health and safety requirements, must not interfere with the educational process, and must not demean other people or infringe upon their rights.”
It also lists several examples of apparel that would be considered inappropriate, including but not limited to tube tops; apparel with a plunging neckline that is excessively revealing; apparel that exposes front or back midriff; apparel that exposes buttocks; apparel that is see-through; and apparel that exposes undergarments.
The school appears to have given Madison the harshest discipline possible based on what is listed in the policy regarding dress code violations.
The policy states that students who refuse to “modify their appearance by covering up or removing the offending item” shall be subject to discipline, up to and including in-school suspension for the day. A student who repeatedly fails to comply with the dress code shall be subject to further discipline, up to and including out-of school suspension.
Kidney said her daughter has never had a dress code violation before.
Her mother said being suspended is impacting Madison academically. Graduating a year early, she said she needs to be in school for her core classes. It has also taken a toll on her self confidence, Erin said.
“It’s not OK to treat children this way,” Erin said. “If there was some child who really was exposing parts of their body that would be a different story. She’s completely covered. I don’t feel we should single kids out like that.”
Erin said she decided to post the video because she think girls need a voice.
Stories about students, particularly young women, being disciplined for violating school dress code policies have drawn continued attention nationally. Students have been punished for how they wear their hair, for not wearing bras, for wearing shirts that expose shoulders and collar bones, or for the length of skirts.
The ACLU has weighed in on the topic several times, discussing what public schools can and can’t do when it comes to dress codes. They also note that dress codes are frequently unevenly enforced against girls for clothing deemed a “distraction” to boys.
Heather Campbell, executive director of the Advocacy Center of Tompkins County, said the way school dress codes are sometimes enforced contributes to a culture of objectification and sexualization of girls’ bodies. Campbell did not comment on Kidney’s case in particular, but spoke broadly about school dress codes.
“I get particularly concerned when, as a sexual assault advocate and as a prevention educator, when women’s clothing is blamed for distracting other people, or that girls’ clothing is causing other people to behave in certain ways,” Campbell said.
Girls often end up blamed for having a body, Campbell said.
“What we’re doing is — perhaps unintentionally but still very strongly — sending a message that girls’ bodies are inherently sexual, provocative or dangerous,” Campbell said. “From a cultural perspective that is concerning because these are foundations of rape culture.”
Campbell said it’s really important for schools, parents and youth-serving agencies to talk about the impact of gender socialization “and how our own beliefs and experiences about how we think about gender can impact how policy is implemented.”
Principal Patrick Mahunik did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
Featured image: Snapshot taken from the Facebook live video shared by Erin Kidney.