A group of Puyallup High School students held a protest on May 11 to make a stand against the school’s dress code, claiming it’s sexist.
The protest was organized after an email sent out to teachers the day before referred to the Puyallup High School Handbook on appropriate attire for students, citing that “shirts and blouses must not expose the waist, sides, hips, midriff or shoulders” and that “skirts and shorts must not be higher than the middle of the thigh.”
Low-cut, tube, one-shoulder halter, spaghetti strap, see-through and bareback tops were listed as prohibited.
Junior Kaylie Haven saw the email and said it was unfair.
“It stated everything females would wear,” Haven said. “I got a group of girls together and said this is a huge problem.”
It stated everything females would wear. I got a group of girls together and said this is a huge problem.
Haven and other students took issue with being unable to wear certain clothing to cool off during warm days in classrooms, and said they knew where to draw the line.
Through word of mouth and social media, Haven gathered students that agreed with her. Less than 24 hours later, more than 30 other students — both boys and girls — walked out of class dressed in tank tops and shorts with hand-made signs claiming “Our bodies, our choice.” One of those students was sophomore Hailey Heath.
“I agreed with what (Haven) said about double standards,” Heath said, and went on to say that an exposed shoulder in a tank top “shouldn’t be sexualized.”
Puyallup School District communications director Brian Fox said that the dress code aims to prevent distractions in a learning environment.
“It was very gender-neutral,” Fox said about the email. “It’s part of the student handbook.”
About an hour into the protest, the students were invited to speak on the issue at the next school district meeting. Some of the girls refused to stop the protest, and were given suspensions for the day.
The students, just like anyone else, have the right to free speech. But the rule is that they’re supposed to be in class.
Brian Fox, Puyallup School District communications director
“The students, just like anyone else, have the right to free speech,” Fox said. “But the rule is that they’re supposed to be in class.”
The protest lasted for about four hours. Haven’s stepmother, Julianna, came to make sure Haven’s protest was peaceful.
“As long as they’re dressed appropriately, it should be okay,” she said. “We’re extremely proud of her, being able to stand up for what she believes in.”
Haven’s parents accompanied her and a group of students to the Puyallup School District board meeting at Edgemont Junior High on May 15.
“Our goal here tonight is not to get rid of the dress code completely, but to revise it,” Haven said in her speech to board members. “...The solution I would like to offer is that we create a committee of a male and female student from all four of our high schools that includes Walker, Puyallup High School, Emerald Ridge and Rogers, a staff member from each one of the schools, an administrator and someone from the district … to work on revising the dress code.”
The solution I would like to offer is that we create a committee of a male and female student from all four of our high schools that includes Walker, Puyallup High School, Emerald Ridge and Rogers, a staff member from each one of the schools, an administrator and someone from the district… to work on revising the dress code.
Kaylie Haven, junior at Puyallup High School
Senior Shelby Hunter read comments from online about the protest, some, she said, from students at the school.
“We deserve to feel safe in our environment when in reality we’re being messaged, we’re being bullied, we’re being harassed and it’s just unfair,” Hunter said.
“Hearing those comments is a little disheartening,” said board president Dane Looker at the conclusion of the meeting.
Now, Fox said that there will be an effort made to look into the dress code, and said he was impressed by Haven’s offered solution.
“It’s at the very beginning stages of looking over it,” Fox said. “(Superintendent Tim) Yeomans has been looking at this topic and making plans for next steps. They are looking at the current student handbook and the language (used).”
Superintendent) Yeomans has been looking at this topic and making plans for next steps. They are looking at the current student Handbook and the language (used).
But Haven said she felt as though her words were ignored by the board and said she considered staging another protest as the weather continues to warm.