It’s the moment every teenage schoolgirl dreads: a teacher or principal calling her out for an outfit deemed inappropriate by school wardrobe guidelines. Perhaps she’s brought to the front of the room for the teacher to examine her clothing length, with a ruler held at her shorts’ hem to see how long they are. A principal may even pluck her from the hallways on her way to class as the other students look on. No matter what the situation is, though, the experience is traumatizing.
And it only gets worse when blazing temperatures send girls straight into their summer wardrobes. After all, short shorts and thin-strapped tops can be a one-way ticket to the principal’s office. And at most schools, every inch of a female student’s wardrobe is up for this type of debate.
So when one 13-year-old girl showed up to school in a romper on August 28, 2017, she was doing so because it was hot outside. Her parents knew this, too. But then her school accused her of distracting the boys with her summer wear. Her dad didn’t appreciate the insinuation at all, however. And, as a result, he turned the tables on his daughter’s school by crafting a stunning response to its dress code.
The thermostat read 90 ?F on the day that Demetra Alarcon arrived in her blue romper at Raymond J. Fisher Middle School in Los Gatos, California. And the teenager quickly grabbed a teacher’s attention for all the wrong reasons. Specifically, the instructor told her that her romper was too short.
And this wasn’t the first time that Demetra had been told her outfit wasn’t appropriate for school. “When I got dress coded one time… they said my bra strap was showing,” she recalled to the San Jose Mercury News. “Lord forbid I might be wearing a bra.”
But on the day her romper was too short, Demetra’s father, Tony Alarcon, had to swing by school with a new outfit for his daughter to wear. And this one, a pair of jean shorts and a tank top with spaghetti straps, was also deemed too skimpy by school officials.
But the investment adviser disagreed with the school official’s assessment of his daughter’s outfit. “I asked Demetra to bend over and touch her toes, right in front of the administrator,” he told Today. “And I said, ‘Nothing is hanging out. There’s nothing inappropriate. I don’t understand this dress code rule.’”
The administrator wouldn’t budge, however – and he also had an interesting explanation as to why Demetra’s outfit was “inappropriate.” Tony explained, “[The school official] said the clothes were distracting to boys.” So, with no other options in the heat, Tony had to give his daughter a pair of leggings he had in his car so that she’d be completely covered – as well as uncomfortable in the summer weather.
Meanwhile, Demetra told the San Jose Mercury News that her school’s administrators made her feel “picked on.” She also said that there was a double standard between the treatment of girls who violate the dress code and boys who do the same. “They don’t write you up for hats,” she said. “I know one guy who wore a hat to class every day last year, and he was never written up.”
Her dad backed up her claim that she’s not the only one violating her school’s dress code, too. “Demetra isn’t alone,” he said. “Just sit in Fisher’s parking lot and you’ll see that.” In analyzing the school’s dress code, moreover, he found that much of it targeted girls. And it required uncomfortable standards of dress when the weather was as stifling as it was on August 28.
“I’ve heard from multiple girls that they just want to be comfortable, but they feel like they’re being pushed into wearing leggings in 100-degree heat,” he said. “I was told by an administrator that the girls’ clothes are a distraction to the boys. That shouldn’t be a concern.”
To that end, he told Today, “[Demetra’s] not a sex symbol. She just wants to be comfortable and attend class and we’re not affording her that opportunity.” Instead, she leaves school feeling “both embarrassed and upset” because “you get pulled out of class in front of everyone,” her dad said.
Ultimately, Tony believes that parents – not school administrators – should be the ones to say what their children can and cannot wear to school. So, after realizing that it would be up to the schools to draw up dress code guidelines that are as fair as he envisioned, Tony decided that he would have to rally community support.
To do so, he took to the internet and responded to the school’s claims that his daughter’s dress was inappropriate. He logged on to NextDoor.com and uploaded his complaints about the school’s dress code, which requires that “underwear and midriffs not be visible,” “tank tops with spaghetti straps” and “short shorts (inseam less than four inches)” may not be worn to school.
However, his post received mixed reviews. Many lauded him for trying to stop using the boys-are-distracted excuse. “Your post has reminded me of some fairly serious body image issues of my own that have stemmed from our cultural shaming and sexualizing of girls’ bodies,” said one commenter.
But the school principal, Lisa Fraser, told the San Jose Mercury News that the school’s dress code is a time-honored tradition – and that it was in place for a reason. “There has always been a dress code,” she said. “These are standards for reasonable decorum.”
And while Tony did agree that there need to be some boundaries, he still thought the rules went too far. “The dress code should require clothes to cover body parts – nothing should be hanging out – I agree 100 percent,” he said. “But wearing spaghetti straps and tank tops does not make them disrespectful or appropriate.”
With this much passion behind his argument, it’s no surprise that Tony’s fight didn’t start and end on NextDoor.com, either. Instead, parents and officials met on September 11, 2017, to share their concerns about the dress code.
Fraser hoped to lead parents with a reasonable, realistic head on her shoulders. “I do reserve the right to set guidelines for the school,” she said, “but I want to lead with the pulse of the community and reflect the community’s core values.”
Even with that mindset, the meeting on September 11 didn’t result in the dramatic dress code overhaul that the Alarcons had likely hoped for. As of September 22, 2017, nothing had come of the meeting – no changes were made to the dress code. And while this must have felt like a bump in the road for Tony, he’ll presumably continue his fight for an improved dress code. After all, those students in the rompers, denim shorts and tanks? “They’re just kids,” he said.