Education

‘Enough is enough’: Fort Mill eighth grader’s ‘humiliation’ prompts dress code battle

As of the third day of school, Fort Mill resident Mindy Neal’s daughter had been pulled out of class twice for dress code violations.

Neal said her 13-year-old daughter, an eighth grade student at Banks Trail Middle School, was sent to the office two days in a row due to outfits the school deemed inappropriate.

The first time, Neal’s daughter was told her shirt was not long enough to be worn with her leggings. The second time, she was told the yoga-style pants she had on did not meet policy, Neal said.

Neal said her daughter’s clothes were not see-through and she wore a buttoned-up jacket with the black yoga pants.

Fort Mill’s dress code policy states that “tops must be long enough that they can be tucked into pants or shorts.”

Neal said her daughter missed her first and second period class on one of the days, and was late to the third because parents had to bring different clothes.

Frustrated, Neal reached out to other parents in the Fort Mill school district. They had their own tales of dress code violations -- particularly with their daughters.

“We found that a lot of, in particularly girls, were being dress coded in middle schools,” said Fort Mill parent and advocate Christine Dayton, who has two children in elementary school and a middle school student. “The dress code policy from school to school seemed to be inconsistent.”

The parents are now fighting to change the dress code, which they feel unfairly targets girls and is not consistently enforced, Neal said. An online petition had garnered more than 5,440 signatures as of Thursday morning.

“We know there are problems all across the district,” Neal said. “We all decided enough was enough.”

She said the goal is to give a voice to parents and students, and create a dress code policy that is fair.

“So that girls in the Fort Mill school district are not facing the humiliation my child felt and they aren’t being held to a different standard than what the boys are,” Neal said.

“The boys agree that it’s unfair toward the girls,” she said. “The boys see the heavy burden these girls face every day when it comes to what’s deemed the dress code”

Fort Mill school leaders in a statement to The Herald Tuesday said: “The district is aware of some concerns about the dress code policy circulating on social media and we are currently reviewing our policy and its implementation to ensure the policy is being applied consistently across all grade levels.”

The district said the dress code is similar to non-uniform polices across the state.

“The policy is also designed to be gender-neutral and is applied equally to males and females,” the district statement said.

The petition points to rules such as shorts, skirts and dresses cannot be shorter than 4 inches above the knee.

Neal said it is difficult to find shorts meeting that standard for her daughter. She said the policy also doesn’t factor different body types.

“A tall girl is never going to meet that 4” short rule,” Neal said.

Multiple Fort Mill parents are planning to address the school board at the Sept. 10 meeting, Dayton said. She said parents have also spoken with some principals in the district.

“The conversations we are having with them are very positive,” Dayton said. “We’re not looking to bully anyone into making changes to the dress code but we would like to work with them to make changes.”

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Amanda Harris covers issues related to children and families in York, Chester and Lancaster County for The Herald. Amanda works with local schools, parents and community members to address important topics such as school security, mental health and the opioid epidemic. She graduated from Winthrop University.
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