Spencer Middle School doesn’t actually have a detailed dress code, but an email suggesting a connection between warm weather and code violations started an online storm. (Zoe Ducklow|News Staff)

Spencer Middle School doesn’t actually have a detailed dress code, but an email suggesting a connection between warm weather and code violations started an online storm. (Zoe Ducklow|News Staff)

‘Distractive’ clothing reminder leaves West Shore parents layering complaints

Dress code reminder sparks outrage among parents for being sexist

“As the sun comes out and the temperature begins to warm up, the clothes seem to come off.”

So began an email received by parents of Spencer Middle School students from Principal Darren Russell on Monday, which went on to outline the school’s dress code.

“Clothes and appearance must not create a distractive or disruptive situation in the classroom…”

While nothing in the dress code specifies things like tank tops, short skirts or leggings, that’s how many parents are interpreting the comments, given the “clothes seem to come off” comment.

Within two hours of the email being posted on the private Facebook group Westshore Mums, there were more than 600 comments, mostly saying the code unfairly targets girls.

Thea Sawin has a elementary school aged daughter in School District 62. She’s disappointed in the messaging that she perceives as directed at girls.

“The email (based on what I saw in the screenshot) appeared to emphasize that young girls can be a distraction to young boys,” she told the Gazette.

“This teaches young girls that we are responsible for the actions and behaviours of young boys and that is not O.K. It also teaches young boys that they are not to be held responsible for their behaviours.”

RELATED: B.C. teen in turtleneck, lace-edged dress sent home from school for ‘inappropriate’ outfit

Sawin, also a Spencer alumni, was told to cover up by a teacher in Grade 7 or 8. Worse, she remembers a friend being sent to the office to get a cover-up shirt. It was designed by the leadership class with a picture of Mr. Dressup saying, ‘Mr. Dressup says dress-up, not down!’ She was mortified, Sawin recalled.

This was almost 20 years ago, and the dress code has already changed markedly to remove specific references to things such as tank tops, but parents are reacting strongly to the email, reading between the lines.

Despite the online uproar, SD62 communications director, Lindsay Vogan said its not reflected at the school. There haven’t been any dress code related incidents and the principal has only received two emails complaining about the note, Vogan said.

Further, it turns out Russell mistakenly copy and pasted an outdated dress code policy in his email. He sent an updated note to parents with the current policy, simply stating that “Students are expected to wear clothing that is appropriate for an educational environment.”

So while the maelstrom doesn’t have roots in school policy, it demonstrates the mood of parents who are determined their children will not be subjected to rules of the past.

RELATED: Sleeveless dresses are OK, B.C. legislature speaker says in dress code update

Krystal Bunce’s son goes to a School District 61 middle school, where there is no dress code. She’s one of the people who wrote to Russell with her concerns. She also commented on the Westshore Mums group, saying that her son was taught from an early age that his body is his alone and other peoples bodies are are not for him.

“They are not there for his entertainment. He is in charge of his own learning and if he fails because he is distracted by a girl that is his own fault not the girl’s. Not to mention that ogling girls no matter what they are wearing is not O.K.…”

Three years ago SD61, that covers Greater Victoria, rewrote its dress code after several female students were sent home for wearing leggings.

“With our new policy in place we take the first step towards a future where no body is a distraction and all children are welcome to express themselves without fear of shame,” Trustee Jordan Watters wrote at the time.

RELATED: ‘Gender-specific’ items removed from B.C. district’s dress codes

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