When you hear that a teenage girl was threatened with suspension from school for an inappropriate outfit, this probably isn’t what you picture: a young woman — who happens to be the student body president, a junior marshal, and a recipient of South Carolina’s Palmetto Fellows Scholarship — wearing a long-sleeved striped sweater over a collared shirt, and paired with a simple skirt.
But that’s exactly what happened to Carey Burgess, a 17-year-old student at Beaufort High School in South Carolina, who got suspended from for wearing a skirt that a teacher told her was too short for the school’s dress code.
Having been cited for dress-code infractions before, Burgess had had enough. She took to social media to vent and share her story, which quickly went viral. Her Facebook post describing the incident has more than 11,300 shares since Tuesday.
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In the original Instagram image, she posted three views of herself in the objectionable outfit. “Today, I wore this outfit to Beaufort High School. About 20 minutes into the day, my friend and I were excused from class to venture to the vending machine because our teacher was planning to do nothing all class period, as usual. On our way back, I learned something very important about myself: I am a whore,” she captioned the photo.
She continued, “As I was walking down the hallway, I heard a voice behind me. ‘Your skirt is too short. You need to go to in-school suspension and then go home.’ Thank you, Mrs. Woods. Thank you for teaching me that looking good for school is NOT appropriate. Thank you for letting me know that while I may think that I am dressing up for my Teacher Cadet lesson, I am in fact dressing to go to a night club or the whore house. Thank you for bringing me to tears in front of my friends and classmates because you do not have the decency to pull me aside and explain the problem.”
The lengthy caption continued to attack the school administration, and even a patriarchal society, for the thinking and the policies that led to the incident. She also implicated the school for what she characterized as a culture of sexism, harassment, and discrimination.
Many posters who appeared to be fellow students chimed in with comments, sharing similar opinions about a school administration less focused on education and more on draconian policies.
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In a statement to the local paper, The Beaufort Gazette, school Principal Corey Murphy responded to the incident. He said he stood behind the teacher and the school’s policies, and attributed the virality of the student’s post to her impassioned writing versus school staff behavior.
He also told TODAY.com that such dress-code enforcement incidents are regular occurrences at the school, happening roughly four to five times weekly. “It’s fairly simple, and in many instances, the kids can correct [the issue] immediately, [for instance] by pulling a skirt down. It’s a very common occurrence that usually results in on-the-spot correction. But she chose to do something different [by posting] online.”
Murphy told TODAY that the look pictured in the student’s social media post was well within the dress code, which specifies that skirts fall not more than three inches above the top of the knee in a standing position.
“The photographs online are not even close to being too short,” he said. “The way it looks there wouldn’t have caught anyone’s attention — that skirt is three inches longer than it has to be before someone says something. It’s not the garment, it’s the wear.”
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He also stressed that no one in the administration used words like the ones Burgess used in her description of the incident. “On our end, to be honest with you, it really wasn’t that serious. Those are horrible words — no one used those words. We won’t say, ‘Why are you wearing that skirt?’ We’ll say, ‘Why are you wearing that skirt at school?’”
Murphy said he has since met with the entire student council, including Burgess, and urged them to speak either as individuals entitled to their own opinions, or to associate themselves with their student council titles — as Burgess did — but to do so in that case as representatives of the entity.
In an email to TODAY, Burgess said that Murphy called her into his office on Wednesday to discuss the post. ”He treated me as an adult, not a rebellious teenager,” she said. ”He commended me on my style of writing, but did not necessarily support my cause.”
She also met with the school administrator. “During the meeting, we both apologized to each other for our wrong doings and any feelings that were hurt,” said Burgess. “Our mutual understanding is that we are sorry for any feelings that were hurt and are ready for the skirt situation to blow over, but not the message at large.”
Burgess added, ”The principal backs up his administrators, and I respect that.”
Alesandra Dubin is a Los Angeles-based writer and the founder of the lifestyle blog Homebody in Motion. Follow her on Facebook, Instagram, Google+ and Twitter.
Girls fight back over school dress code