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Pitman students decry dress code with planned protest
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Pitman High student Olivia Millentree sparked a schoolwide protest of the dress code after she was disciplined for wearing the outfit pictured (Photo contributed).

A dress code violation by a Pitman High School student on Monday has sparked a protest of Turlock Unified School District’s policy on what can and can’t be worn to class, with some students claiming the rules and their enforcement are inconsistent and sexist. 

PHS senior Olivia Millentree says she believes she was unfairly dress coded on Monday for wearing a crop top and leggings, with her refusal to put on a t-shirt over her top resulting in suspension and placement back on distance learning. Although she was told a return to campus would result in charges of trespassing, Millentree said she came back to school at lunch time to apologize for her actions and was placed under arrest by the campus school resource officer after refusing to leave.

Millentree posted a video of her outfit to social media, where students began to react and share opinions on the district’s dress code as well as their own experiences. Due to her suspension, she can no longer walk at graduation.

“It made me feel targeted,” Millentree said, who believes the dress code targets girls who are curvier or more developed than other students. “I do regret going back on campus and I guess I shouldn’t have, but I really don’t regret what I did because I stood up for something I believed in... I’m sick of girls being sexualized or being a distraction toward boys, and I’m happy that there’s an outcome and other girls are starting to stand up for themselves.” 

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Pitman students created an Instagram account to promote a protest being held on Monday, and also posted messages on the campus’ bathroom walls.

While there is plenty of language in the dress code (https://www.turlock.k12.ca.us/Page/1406) addressing accessories that could be distracting in a school setting, like gang-related attire, disruptive body piercings and saggy pants, there are also guidelines which prohibit “see-through clothing, clothing that reveals a bare midriff or chest or clothes that expose the body in a sexually suggestive manner” as well as “underwear-type sleeveless shirts, tube tops, halter tops and spaghetti straps.”

Additionally, “skirts, shorts, and dresses that are more than four inches above the knee, or are form-fitting or tight around the body (such as bike shorts)” are not allowed.

Some students at PHS feel the dress code unfairly targets girls and is inconsistently enforced, with some getting away with their midriff showing and others being sent to the office for it. Shortly after Monday’s incident involving Millentree, an online petition and Instagram account promoting a protest of the dress code were created, catching the attention of school administration. 

On Friday, PHS Principal Angela Freeman hosted a Zoom forum which saw over 100 students attend, and Turlock High School will host one of their own next week. Freeman told the students that feedback received during the forum would be written down and sent to Director of Student Services Gil Ogden.

“I respect you all and I value you guys, and I truly want to hear what you guys have to say,” Freeman told the forum participants. 

Many young women — and some young men, too — spoke during the forum and shared a variety of qualms with the dress code. It makes them feel uncomfortable and sexualized by adults, many said, and others also feel it disproportionately and unfairly targets students of color. They also shared that they don’t feel like boys on campus are held to the same standard, with several students pointing out the hypocrisy of male students walking around shirtless after P.E. class with no intervention.

One student shared that she was once taken out of class for 45 minutes because she was wearing a tank top, forcing her to miss a test that she was unable to make up. Others also shared that they believed time in class should be valued more than enforcing the dress code, and some students said the focus should be on teaching boys how to respect women and their clothing choices.

“Regardless of what I was wearing, I think the emphasis should be more on teaching boys how to talk toward females and respect our bodies, because our bodies aren’t objects,” said another student.

As far as what reform students would like to see when it comes to the dress code, because as Freeman put it, “there still will be a dress code,” forum participants asked for consistency and clarification on what is and isn’t allowed, and for relaxation on verbiage which overly sexualizes students. PHS students plan to protest on Monday by wearing crop tops to school.

“We live in a society that has rules, right? It is our job to prepare you for college and career readiness,” Freeman said. “...So obviously when you guys get to a job, there are going to be guidelines you’re going to have to follow. So, what’s next?”

TUSD Chief Communication Coordinator Marie Russell said the district is aware of the dress code concerns as well as the protest, and said that school Positive Behavior Interventions and Support teams, with participation from students, will work to update the dress code in an effort to “promote dressing for success and college and career readiness.”

Millentree said she was satisfied with the PHS forum on Friday and was encouraged to see her principal taking notes.

“I know you can’t change everything, but I hope there are more guidelines and more clarification on how cropped your shirt can be, because there have been times where I was showing midriff but they didn’t enforce it,” Millentree said. “For future girls, I hope that if they do get dress coded, they don't look at themselves any differently and I don't want them to think it’s their fault for being a distraction to boys.”