Mom decries Geneva middle school girls targeted for wearing tank tops on a hot day

Mom criticizes dress code: ’They are sexualizing a child’s body’

GENEVA – It was 85 degrees Tuesday and some girls who attend Geneva Middle School North wore tank tops to school – even though the dress code requires shoulders to be covered.

And though her daughter is a remote learner and was not involved, Brannon Anderson said the girls were called out of class and “shamed publicly, forced to put on giant sweatshirts and some were forced to put on their band shirts to cover their shoulders.”

“These are not 18-year-old women, these are children,” Anderson said.

“Of course, the dress code is wrong. When an adult staff or faculty member at the school calls a child out and forces them to cover their shoulders, they are sexualizing a child’s body,” Anderson said. “They are teaching the girls that there is something shameful about their bodies and at the same time, showing boys that there’s something inappropriate about their peers’ bodies. These are children and their bodies should not be policed by anyone but their parents.”

Superintendent Kent Mutchler stated in an email that the school was following a board policy regarding student appearance as stated in the student handbook, which each student acknowledges and signs at the beginning of each school year.

“At GMSN, these guidelines are utilized to maintain order, secure the safety of students, and provide a sanitary environment conducive to academic purposes,” Mutchler stated in the the email.

“They are in no way relied upon to suppress the self-expression or individuality of our students. In a typical situation in question, we simply ask students to either zip up their sweatshirts, put on a sweatshirt, or take their hood or hat off. Most often there are no consequences issued, and we are holding all students to this dress code, keeping in mind that these interactions look different from student to student,” according to Mutchler’s email. “Please know that we will continue to have these conversations with families as they arise, and we will keep addressing our students with respect as we work to navigate these situations.”

Anderson said she was waiting to hear back from school officials as to how many girls were removed from class.

Dress code issues

As it happens, the student dress code is a hot button issue for her daughter, Emmeline, a seventh grader who turned 13 Wednesday.

In 2019, the mother and daughter advocated for the district to adopt the model dress code put forward by Oregon chapter of the National Organization for Women.

The dress code, which was largely adopted by Evanston Township High School, states, “Student dress codes should support equitable educational access and should not reinforce gender stereotypes. Student dress codes and administrative enforcement should not reinforce or increase marginalization or oppression of any group based on race, gender, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, household income, gender identity or cultural observance.”

The Oregon NOW model allows for leggings, yoga pants, bare midriffs, pajamas, tank tops.

“Clothes must be worn in a way such that genitals, buttocks, and nipples are covered with opaque material,” according to the NOW dress code model. “Cleavage should not have coverage requirements. All items listed in the ‘must wear’ and ‘may wear’ categories below must meet this basic principle.”

Both Geneva’s and the NOW dress code stand against shirts that promote alcohol, tobacco or illegal drugs or that denigrate the worth of others, sexual innuendo or deadly weapons.

School board presentation

Emmeline and a friend wrote a presentation that both girls presented at the Sept. 23, 2019 school board meeting, advocating for a more inclusive dress code, and recommended using the Oregon NOW’s model.

“Geneva’s dress code states that ‘A good rule to follow is to cover the shoulder to the mid-thigh.’ This is unclear to everyone and causes unnecessary stress,” according to the presentation. “It puts teachers in the difficult position of having to decide whether the outfit is appropriate or not. This also can lead students to having to be fearful as to whether or not they will get in trouble, as some kids will get called out and others will not.”

Emmeline noted that the previous year when she was 10, her shirt was fine, but at 11 and starting middle school, it was not.

“The dress code is communicating to me that something about my body is unacceptable. This makes students feel like something about their bodies, specifically their shoulders and legs, are somehow inappropriate now that I am 11, when they are fine when I was 10,” Emmeline said at the meeting.

“The fact is, our current dress code does incite fear in students, particularly the girls. It communicates to me that something about my growing body is somehow now unacceptable,” Emmeline’s presentation stated. “While the reality is that dress code is often unenforced, the idea that I may be publicly shamed about my body and clothing at school is scary and frustrating.”

‘Outdated rhetoric’

Geneva mom Martha Paschke said her daughter was called out for wearing a tank top on Tuesday.

Paschke said she did not want her daughter’s name published, but referred to her older daughter, Hannah Paschke, an 18-year-old senior at Geneva High School, who wrote a letter about it to school officials.

“My sibling was wearing a large flannel shirt, over a tank top, which, first of all hardly offensive or indecent whatsoever, and secondly, shouldn’t matter any way,” Hannah’s letter stated. “They are children, and I can’t believe they are already being taught this outdated rhetoric of needing to ‘cover up’ and hide their bodies. This implies there is something inherently distracting or suggestive about showing their shoulders, or wearing shorts that are too short, which is disgusting, because again, they are children.”

Hannah wrote that if the intention of the dress code is to keep male students from being distracted, “then I am horrified.”

“This is 2021, and this is a prime example of how sexism is taught to future generations,” Hannah wrote.

The issue is that a girl’s self-expression becomes a chastisement to cover up, “because now that girl understands that it is her responsibility to accommodate the immaturity of the men around her,” Hannah wrote.

“And those young boys watching this happen, learn that they can think and act however they want, because it will never fall on their shoulders to correct their own behavior, and solve the actual issue,” Hannah wrote.

Hannah wrote that she spoke to six girls who were “dress coded” on Tuesday and included their comments – without naming them – in her letter.

The girls said they were targeted because they were girls, and that, “If a boy wore a tank top to school he would not get dress coded. … Boys never get shamed or dress coded for breaking it, because they are ‘boys.’”

Anderson said the girls involved will never forget that day.

“These girls will never forget how they were shamed by the faculty and staff that they were told they could trust at their school,” Anderson said. “That’s a pivotal moment for a 12-year-old child to be told to cover her body because it’s inappropriate. She will never forget that moment.”