TAMPA ― Darcy Krueger was excited to dress up for the Tampa Bay Homeschool Homecoming dance.
The 17-year-old donned a long black jumpsuit and shiny silver shoes. Her mother, Melissa Krueger, drove her nearly an hour from their Lakeland home to the venue, the Orlo House and Ballroom in Tampa.
Her mother hadn’t even made it home yet when she got a panicked call from her daughter. The event organizer refused to let Darcy Krueger inside.
The reason? The teen was wearing a jumpsuit, not a dress.
Melissa Krueger said she made several attempts to convince an event organizer, Stephanie Voth, to let her daughter attend the Sept. 27 dance.
But it didn’t work. Nearly 400 students attended the dance — except for Darcy Krueger.
“You think, wow, it’s 2019 — women wear pants all the time," her mother said. “But you show up at a semi-formal event wearing pants, all of the sudden you can’t go in.”
She took her disappointment to Facebook. Her post quickly was shared over and over again.
The next thing she knew, the news was calling.
“Just this morning I got a message from a news reporter from Australia," the mother told the Tampa Bay Times on Thursday. “I’ve gotten comments from people in South Africa. I’ve been contacted from reporters in the U.K."
How did things escalate so quickly?
The night of the dance
After Darcy Krueger was rejected, another mom offered her a spare dress she had in her car.
“I didn’t want to do it because I would be supporting a rule I didn’t believe in,” the 17-year-old said.
“That was nice of the moms to offer the dress,” Melissa Krueger said. “But then I thought, wait a minute — why didn’t they stand up for her?”
Voth still refused to let her in. So the Krugers drove back to Polk County.
“Nobody hated to turn that girl away more than me," Voth said. "She was precious. But she was not in compliance.”
The dress code recommended “semi-formal dresses for young ladies" that were "within a conservative manner.” Strapless and knee-length short dresses, plus two-piece dresses with small, mid-section gaps were allowed.
The dress code, however, did not explicitly state that girls cannot wear pants.
Voth thought the rules were clear.
“The problem is a jumpsuit does not constitute a dress,” she said. "And the very first line of it is, girls wear dresses.”
The Kruegers were confused.
“It never mentions split dresses or jumpsuits for girls," Melissa Krueger said. “We didn’t think that we were violating anything because at the heart of the dress code was modesty.”
The mother said she saw other students attending the dance who were violating the dress code with “plunging necklines” and short hemlines. And there was something else that bothered her about the situation.
“The one who denied entrance to this dance was wearing pants herself," Melissa Krueger said of Voth.
First, local television stations picked up the story. Then national outlets like CNN and The Washington Post started calling.
“I’m very surprised that it got even this far," Darcy Krueger said. “I’m proud of it. It’s just kind of shocking, because I thought the first news outlet was going to be the last.”
The feedback she has received online has been surprisingly supportive.
“In general, people are very very supportive,” Melissa Krueger said.
Even though the dress and conduct codes stated refunds would not be given, Voth gave the Kruegers their $50 back.
“I would have rather had an apology than a refund," the mother said.
Voth said she’s tried to lie low since the story broke. She said she volunteered to help organize the dance. Her event-planning business is also listed as a co-host along with the Tampa Bay Homeschool Prom Committee.
She avoided speaking to media outlets and shut down the Tampa Bay homeschool homecoming events page after it was deluged by negative comments. But she told the Tampa Bay Times that her event planning business was hurt by the controversy.
“This was supposed to be fun, and last week was not fun," Voth said. “My business has been destroyed.”
She deleted her business’ Facebook page and the one for the Tampa Bay Homeschool Homecoming Dance.
Days after the dance and controversy. Voth said she invited a few parent-volunteers to talk over the dress code. The group considered rewording the existing dress code to explicitly state that dresses must be worn.
Pants and jumpsuits will still not be permitted.
“The parents are not interested in changing it,” Voth said. “They want it to be dresses ... when you’re wearing a dress, you’re dressed up.”
Melissa Krueger said she wasn’t invited to the meeting. Voth said the mother disrespected the rules of the dance by allowing her daughter to wear what she called a “business casual” outfit to a semi-formal dance.
“Quite frankly, she’s gone against everything that we stand for," Voth said.
The Kruegers did get something positive out of all this. Lakeland photographer Jennie Ellis reached out to the family after the news went viral. She offered the teen a free photo shoot in the jumpsuit.
“This has become something that is empowering to Darcy," Ellis said.