It’s the moment every teenage schoolgirl dreads: a teacher or principal calling her out for an outfit deemed inappropriate by school wardrobe guidelines. Perhaps she’s brought to the front of the room for the teacher to examine her clothing length, with a ruler held at her shorts’ hem to see how long they are. A principal may even pluck her from the hallways on her way to class as the other students look on. No matter what the situation is, though, the experience is traumatizing.
And it only gets worse when blazing temperatures send girls straight into their summer wardrobes. After all, short shorts and thin-strapped tops can be a one-way ticket to the principal’s office. And at most schools, every inch of a female student’s wardrobe is up for this type of debate.
So when one 13-year-old girl showed up to school in a romper on August 28, 2017, she was doing so because it was hot outside. Her parents knew this, too. But then her school accused her of distracting the boys with her summer wear. Her dad didn’t appreciate the insinuation at all, however. And, as a result, he turned the tables on his daughter’s school by crafting a stunning response to its dress code.
The thermostat read 90 ⁰F on the day that Demetra Alarcon arrived in her blue romper at Raymond J. Fisher Middle School in Los Gatos, California. And the teenager quickly grabbed a teacher’s attention for all the wrong reasons. Specifically, the instructor told her that her romper was too short.
And this wasn’t the first time that Demetra had been told her outfit wasn’t appropriate for school. “When I got dress coded one time… they said my bra strap was showing,” she recalled to the San Jose Mercury News. “Lord forbid I might be wearing a bra.”
But on the day her romper was too short, Demetra’s father, Tony Alarcon, had to swing by school with a new outfit for his daughter to wear. And this one, a pair of jean shorts and a tank top with spaghetti straps, was also deemed too skimpy by school officials.
But the investment adviser disagreed with the school official’s assessment of his daughter’s outfit. “I asked Demetra to bend over and touch her toes, right in front of the administrator,” he told Today. “And I said, ‘Nothing is hanging out. There’s nothing inappropriate. I don’t understand this dress code rule.’”
The administrator wouldn’t budge, however – and he also had an interesting explanation as to why Demetra’s outfit was “inappropriate.” Tony explained, “[The school official] said the clothes were distracting to boys.” So, with no other options in the heat, Tony had to give his daughter a pair of leggings he had in his car so that she’d be completely covered – as well as uncomfortable in the summer weather.
Meanwhile, Demetra told the San Jose Mercury News that her school’s administrators made her feel “picked on.” She also said that there was a double standard between the treatment of girls who violate the dress code and boys who do the same. “They don’t write you up for hats,” she said. “I know one guy who wore a hat to class every day last year, and he was never written up.”
Her dad backed up her claim that she’s not the only one violating her school’s dress code, too. “Demetra isn’t alone,” he said. “Just sit in Fisher’s parking lot and you’ll see that.” In analyzing the school’s dress code, moreover, he found that much of it targeted girls. And it required uncomfortable standards of dress when the weather was as stifling as it was on August 28.
“I’ve heard from multiple girls that they just want to be comfortable, but they feel like they’re being pushed into wearing leggings in 100-degree heat,” he said. “I was told by an administrator that the girls’ clothes are a distraction to the boys. That shouldn’t be a concern.”
To that end, he told Today, “[Demetra’s] not a sex symbol. She just wants to be comfortable and attend class and we’re not affording her that opportunity.” Instead, she leaves school feeling “both embarrassed and upset” because “you get pulled out of class in front of everyone,” her dad said.
Ultimately, Tony believes that parents – not school administrators – should be the ones to say what their children can and cannot wear to school. So, after realizing that it would be up to the schools to draw up dress code guidelines that are as fair as he envisioned, Tony decided that he would have to rally community support.
To do so, he took to the internet and responded to the school’s claims that his daughter’s dress was inappropriate. He logged on to NextDoor.com and uploaded his complaints about the school’s dress code, which requires that “underwear and midriffs not be visible,” “tank tops with spaghetti straps” and “short shorts (inseam less than four inches)” may not be worn to school.
However, his post received mixed reviews. Many lauded him for trying to stop using the boys-are-distracted excuse. “Your post has reminded me of some fairly serious body image issues of my own that have stemmed from our cultural shaming and sexualizing of girls’ bodies,” said one commenter.
But the school principal, Lisa Fraser, told the San Jose Mercury News that the school’s dress code is a time-honored tradition – and that it was in place for a reason. “There has always been a dress code,” she said. “These are standards for reasonable decorum.”
And while Tony did agree that there need to be some boundaries, he still thought the rules went too far. “The dress code should require clothes to cover body parts – nothing should be hanging out – I agree 100 percent,” he said. “But wearing spaghetti straps and tank tops does not make them disrespectful or appropriate.”
With this much passion behind his argument, it’s no surprise that Tony’s fight didn’t start and end on NextDoor.com, either. Instead, parents and officials met on September 11, 2017, to share their concerns about the dress code.
Fraser hoped to lead parents with a reasonable, realistic head on her shoulders. “I do reserve the right to set guidelines for the school,” she said, “but I want to lead with the pulse of the community and reflect the community’s core values.”
Even with that mindset, the meeting on September 11 didn’t result in the dramatic dress code overhaul that the Alarcons had likely hoped for. As of September 22, 2017, nothing had come of the meeting – no changes were made to the dress code. And while this must have felt like a bump in the road for Tony, he’ll presumably continue his fight for an improved dress code. After all, those students in the rompers, denim shorts and tanks? “They’re just kids,” he said.
The Alarcons aren’t the only family to have experienced this, though. Morgan Bentley was sent home from class because her pants were deemed to be too tight – and the 12-year-old’s parents were outraged. So when the school responsible went on to defend its decision, Morgan’s mother decided to fight back, responding in a way that may just strike a chord with moms and dads everywhere.
Back in 2015 Morgan lived in Franklin Township, Indiana, with mom Traci and dad Rodney. At that time, like many 12-year-olds in the U.S., Morgan attended her local middle school. But though the school year may have progressed relatively straightforwardly for the young girl at first, in November 2015 she would find herself at the center of a dispute.
That controversy began when Morgan found herself called to a meeting because of her clothes. More specifically, it was all down to the style of pants that she had been wearing to class from her first days at Franklin Township Middle School West. She was typically clad in skinny jeans, simply because these were the best option for her slender frame.
In the meeting, however, Morgan was told that she had broken the rules. According to her superiors, the youngster’s skinny jeans were an infringement of the dress code as they were too close-fitting. And as a consequence of this ruling, school officials gave Morgan an on-campus suspension.
Morgan’s mom only learned of her daughter’s suspension when the school sent her an email explaining the situation. However, it would come to light that the institution’s rules on “form-fitting” clothing were clearly outlined in its handbook.
The handbook stated, for instance, “The following are never acceptable for students to wear at school: shorts (see guidelines for pants), wrap-around skirts [and] form-fitting clothes (a good rule of thumb would be what the ninth grade center/high school uses – if it has any spandex and/or no pockets, it shouldn’t be worn).”
However, Morgan’s mom, Traci, believed that the decision made by the school was a ridiculous one. “I feel like there’s nothing inappropriate about a skinny jean,” she told Indianapolis NBC affiliate WTHR in 2015. “I’m her mother. I’m not going to send her in anything that I feel is inappropriate.”
What’s more, when the school emailed Traci to tell her of Morgan’s offence, its message claimed that her child should only have received a warning for her jeans, as this had been the first time that she had been deemed in violation of the dress code. Suspension may have appeared a rather draconian move to the parent, then.
But even though Traci may have been angry at the decision, the responsible mom nevertheless wanted to avoid Morgan landing in trouble once more. As a result, the schoolgirl wore a different pair of pants to class the following day. However, once again, the school told Morgan that her new jeans were inappropriate.
Rather than argue with the school, though, Morgan’s parents simply decided to try again. So, next day, they sent her to class in yet another pair of pants. But, incredibly, those in charge still said that Morgan’s clothes were too tight.
Unsurprisingly, the ruling left Morgan’s parents stunned. “Three days in a row,” an astonished Traci said to WTHR. Dad Rodney added, “We switched pants three different times, and three different times they sent her home.”
At this point, Morgan and her parents may have felt at a loose end. That’s because her skinny jeans weren’t merely a fashion statement: they were the only style of pants that could accommodate the pre-teen’s growing figure. “We can’t find anything else for me to wear,” Morgan explained to WTHR at the time.
“She is extremely petite, so trying to find clothes that fit her is difficult,” Traci would also tell WRTV in 2015. She added, “I just don’t think it’s appropriate to send her to school in sweatpants. It’s dumbfounding, I just don’t get it.”
In addition, Franklin Township Middle School West had explained that Morgan could only return to class once she had on an appropriate pair of pants. So, she and her dad set out on a shopping trip, attempting to locate an item of clothing of which the school would approve.
However, finding Morgan pants that suited both her and the school rules wasn’t an easy task. Rodney later revealed to WTHR, “Me and Morgan went to Kohl’s and Target, and we spent over two hours there going through sweatpants, zero-fitting jeans, everything. And none of them would fit her.”
To make matters worse, Rodney had trouble deciphering what was acceptable in the eyes of Franklin Township Middle School West. “There were a couple of [pairs of pants] that would have been fine to me, as a father letting my girl to go to school in,” he explained. “[But the school] would have sent her back home again.”
Furthermore, while talking to WTHR, the doting dad seemed to be concerned about the effect that the whole charade had had on his young daughter. “We were [shopping] for over two hours, and she was crying during the process of doing it,” Rodney revealed.
Morgan’s mom appeared to have understood her daughter’s discontent, too. Traci said, “To go into that fitting room and to try on several different clothes and for them to not fit you appropriately, or for her to think that it doesn’t fit her appropriately, or that someone is going to judge her – of course it’s going to affect her self-esteem.” She added, “It’s heartbreaking to us.”
As it turned out, however, the Franklin Township Community School Corporation would reveal that the school district was sticking by its decision to punish Morgan. It would be Traci who would make the most powerful statement on the matter, though, slamming Morgan’s school for not fulfilling its duty to her daughter – and in a rather forthright manner.
Specifically, Traci told WRTV, “[Morgan]’s not getting the proper education. She’s behind in school, and we’re spending two days now focusing on pants that are too tight.” The concerned mom added, “It’s unfathomable to me that there’s this big of an issue on dress code and not her education.” And given that Morgan’s schooling was suffering, many wouldn’t fault Traci for speaking out in this way.