MONTCLAIR, NJ - A large group of youngsters were chanting, "Fight the sexist dress code" and “I am not my dress” shortly before 8 a.m. in front of Montclair High School on Thursday morning. This was allegedly in response to a large number of dress code violations issued by the school.
While a dress code is published in the MHS Student Handbook, ultimately, it is open to interpretation. In part, it reads: “Students have a responsibility to attire themselves in a manner that is conducive to an instructional and professional environment.”
Liv Dawson, a student in the crowd said, “Obviously we shouldn’t have our underwear out, but there’s a difference calling out a student for spaghetti straps versus for shorts where their butts are out.” Dawson added that it may also be connected to race, “A lot of the black girls get called out more.” When asked why she thought that was, she said she had no idea, and wasn’t calling any one racist but added, “It’s just a fact.”
Many protesters had signs and were marching in an orderly fashion up and down the sidewalk in front of the school. A few parents also stood by the sidelines. While Principal James Earle allowed the students to protest, he warned that instruction inside the school should not be disrupted, and that the students needed to stay on the sidewalk off the campus.
Constance DiMartino, a parent who was dropping off her child, said, “The school code is completely out of line. I trust my teenager to make the right choices. Most of these kids are two years away from voting. You can’t tell them how to dress.”
Crystal Straker Taylor, a non-protesting student walking by, said, “One minute we can have spaghetti straps, then they change the rules. They need to make it the same.” She added that she was unaware of anything that happened to prompt school administration to change the rules. She continued, “Nothing happened that I know of. They don’t want people thinking they don’t have rules. It’s more about the way they look. They want to impress people.”
While most expressed no objection to having a dress code, the opinions varied as to why the dress code was changed, whether it was fair and whether it is unilaterally enforced.
By the time the bell rang, there were at least 100 students, school security, the Principal and four police cars on the corner of Chestnut Street and Park.
On the change.org website where the student-generated petition is hosted, student protest organizers wrote:
"Right now, female students are being grossly sexualized at Montclair High School. The newly reinforced dress code disproportionately targets female students for wearing summer clothing, sending them home to put on more modest attire, despite the high temperatures inside of the classrooms. School is a place for learning, not a place where students should be removed from class in order to be reprimanded for dressing in the clothing that is made available to them and that society encourages them to wear. Frequently, female students are told to "dress for their bodies” which is an issue outside of the schools jurisdiction. Wearing shorts and a tank top does not impede upon a female student's ability to learn, nor should it impede upon the ability of a teacher to teach . This strict dress code perpetuates rape culture by suggesting to girls that their way of dress is punishable and justifies their sexualization. It suggests that it is their responsibility to dress modestly as to keep from “distracting” their male counterparts. This is a ridiculous sentiment and is offensive to both males and females. The true issue lies in a culture that sexualizes girls, not in the supposed tantalizing nature of spaghetti-straps."
At the time of publication, more than 1,000 people had signed the online petition.