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Dealing with the dress code: Distraction or discrimination?

A black crop top and high-waisted shorts were what sent Plant High junior Katy Wood on a search for an imaginary jacket. Stopped recently by an administrator during her lunch period, Wood was charged with violating dress code. Her outfit left an inch of skin bare: a small strip across her stomach where her shirt did not touch her shorts. To avoid being sent to the main office or worse, sent home, Wood offered to get a jacket from her locker.

The jacket didn't exist, but its promise saved her from the consequences of breaking the dress code at Plant. "I wasn't able to eat that day because I didn't want to run into the A.P. who stopped me," Wood said.

"This idea that girls need to always cover themselves, it's sexist," she said. "Even one day in my art class, the teacher tried passing out old T-shirts to girls with tank tops on. It was something that really didn't need to happen."

She said she objects to the double standard applied to girls and guys.

"Girls are having a small strip of the stomach sexualized," she said, "while guys can be seen wearing tank tops and (really short) shorts."

Plant High isn't the only school where students are pointing to a double-standard. Hillsborough High senior Lenir La Cour says that guys and girls there are held to completely different standards for conforming to dress code.

"A lot of the time you'll see a girl getting stopped or told to go to the office because what they're wearing is 'inappropriate and is a distraction', " La Cour said.

It's not uncommon, though, to see "a whole bunch of guys sagging their pants and wearing tank tops and never getting written up for it," he said.

The term "distraction" is often used to describe girls' clothing that violates school dress codes. This can include shirts exposing the shoulder or midriff, or shorts, skirts and dresses that are shorter than fingertips when arms are held at the side.

"A lot of guys at my school, or really any school, can't keep their eyes off a girl who might be wearing something that shows off a little skin, making (the outfit) a 'distraction', " La Cour said. "But why should girls have to alter what they wear because a boy can't …pay attention in class?"

Keyovanna Dees, a junior at Blake High, agrees. "They tell girls to cover up more of their body so that we won't be 'distracting' boys, but they never tell boys to focus on school and not (be) perverted," she said.

"I'm not harming anyone. I'm happy with how I look, and with my clothes," Wood said.