Students required to show photos of homecoming dress before buying tickets to dance sparks outcry

A Wisconsin high school was forced to defend itself after backlash over a policy requiring all “dress-wearing” students to submit photos of attire before being allowed to purchase homecoming dance tickets.

Pewaukee High School students who wish to attend the dance next month had to submit front and back photos of themselves wearing the dress they intend to be in for the Oct. 7 event before being allowed to purchase a ticket,  according to ABC News.

While the policy is not new and is an extension of the Pewaukee School District’s dress code, a recent email reminding students of the requirement sparked an outcry that the rules were sexist.

The school acknowledged in a Sept. 18 email that there may be some who might be “uncomfortable with the submission of a photograph.” Parents and guardians were directed to email the principal in these instances “to indicate they have reviewed the dress guidelines and will assist us to ensure student attire is compliant,” the letter stated. “The student will then be able to purchase a ticket for the homecoming dance.”

But one mother, whose daughter is a freshman at the school, thinks the policy is sending the wrong message.

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“The girls are essentially being held responsible for the wayward thoughts (administrators) think boys have,” Rebecca Sheperd told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

“They’re being told, ‘You are the problem,’ ” she said. “These are the roots of rape culture, frankly.”

Finding approved clothing “if you’re busty or anything” can be a challenge with current styles, according to Senior Kaitlyn Boelter.

“I understand that they don’t want it hanging all out. But to the extent that you have what you have, you shouldn’t have to be ashamed of that,” she said.

But Pewaukee School District superintendent, Mike Cady, contends the feedback has been “heavily positive and supportive” from the community. “Really the negative reaction has been external, primarily via social media,” he told ABC News.

The policy is really an extension of the school’s dress code which prohibits students from wearing strapless dresses, showing the midriff or wearing open back dresses. Those critical of the requirements claim the rules discriminate against female students.

Cady, however, maintains that the policy is not sexist since there are rules that appear to target male students as well, like not wearing low-hanging pants. Girls wearing inappropriate attire at school functions forced the district to impose the pre-dance photo check, according to Cady.

“It’s really out of a sensitivity to our students,” he told the Journal Sentinel. “We want (school dances) to be a positive experience. We don’t want anyone to show up and have to be sent home because of a dress-code violation.”

Choices for a homecoming dress are “extremely limited” when following the school policy, Mikayla Jenkins, a 17-year-old senior, told ABC News.

“Almost every dress has some sort of open back, which is prohibited at my school,” she said. “It took me a long time to find a dress that I knew would absolutely be approved.”

Her mother noted that her daughter was complying for the third year in a row because she was “not willing to risk being turned away at the door.”

“It makes it really difficult to shop,” Michelle Jenkins said. “To have a cutout in the midriff, on the sides or a cutout on the back, even if it does go up to the neck, is very popular.

“It’s only because of the latest media attention that people are forming opinions,” she added.

Parents and students alike were critical of the policy and believe the district should allow students more freedom, especially since the policy seems unfairly aimed at female.

“Overall, I believe that us as young adults should be able to make our own choices in choosing a dress without administration judging us and holding us against these strict policies,” Jenkins said.

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For one Pewaukee High School student, the risk of having her dress rejected was less of a problem than the photo requirement.

“I think the fact that we have to submit a photo of ourselves wearing it front and back is a little bit creepy to me,”  Nicole Stark, a 17 year-old senior at the school, said. “Honestly, I would much rather get turned away at the door than to have to send a picture of myself wearing a dress.”

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Frieda Powers

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