13-year-old dress-coded for sweater that shows her belly-button: 'I was told it was a distraction to the boys'

Elise Solé
Samantha Wilson, an 8th-grade student at Irvington Middle School in N.Y. was dress-coded for her H&M sweater. Her family started a petition asking the school to reevaluate its rules. (Photo: Courtesy of Cydney Wilson)

An 8th-grade student was dress coded at school because her H&M sweater was allegedly a “distraction to the boys.” 

Samantha Wilson, a student at Irvington Middle School in Irvington, New York was penalized on Wednesday because her favorite sweater — a $20 black-and-white pullover she selected for her yearbook photo and which her sister borrowed for a college interview — was too sexy, according to the New York Post

During science class, Samantha said she was called into the assistant principal’s office and lectured for 30 minutes about her top. “I was told it was a distraction to the boys, and that my midriff and bra strap were visible,” she told the New York Post. “It felt like a personal hit on me and my clothing style.” She was given a coat to wear for the rest of the day. 

Samantha said her navel is only exposed when she raises her hand in class but admits that her bra strap shows if the sweater falls off her shoulder. “I walked into my next class trying not to cry. But I lost it and I burst into tears,” she told the New York Post. “When the teacher asked why I was crying, my friend said I was dress-coded. The teacher said, ‘She deserves to be.’ He said that in front of my entire class.”

On Wednesday, Samantha’s older sister Cydney started a Change.org petition that almost 500 people have signed. “The only lesson she learned today is that she needs to cover up her body, otherwise she will be pulled from class and humiliated,” wrote Cydney, 17. “The objectification of our students in the middle school is absolutely horrifying. What are we trying to teach our young students at their most vulnerable time? We NEED to do better than this.”

Samantha’s bare midriff breaches the school’s dress code that doesn’t allow “extremely brief garments.” However, Cydney argued, “….I am proposing that the ‘bare midriff’ part of the dress code be removed, as nobody’s belly button is inappropriate.”

Samantha Wilson was dress coded for her crop top. In a petition to the school, her big sister Cydney defended the outfit. (Photo: Change.org)

Cydney learned about the violation last week when Samantha said she had “the worst day ever” in a text message. “She’s wearing a long-sleeved sweater in the middle of winter,” she told Yahoo Lifestyle.

“She’s only 13 and had no clue why her outfit wasn’t appropriate,” Cydney said. “For an authority figure to put forth a notion that she was distracting someone’s ability to learn is distressing. That’s not her responsibility.”

Cydney was once dinged at Irvington Middle School when a teacher made her wear a sweatshirt over her tanktop because her camisole underneath peeked out. “Why is anyone looking at a 13-year-old’s body?” Cydney told Yahoo Lifestyle.

The girls’ mother, Jamie Wilson, wrote on the petition, “I still can’t believe that my daughter/Cyd’s sister was body-shamed today — by adults at her school. She was wearing black leggings and a sweater that at times slipped off her shoulder showing g-d forbid her bra strap and because her belly button was showing when she raised her hand. She is an innocent 13-year-old girl who wore an outfit she felt good about. She felt good in it. She didn’t think about it slipping from her shoulder at times or her belly button when she raised her hand. But now she does. She was humiliated at school — pulled from science to discuss. She just liked the shirt and doesn’t think about what happens when she raises her hand. I’m so proud of my daughter for posting this. So disappointed in my school for objectifying young girls.”

Irvington Schools Superintendent Kristopher Harrison shared a statement with Yahoo Lifestyle: “…The fact is, we always want to improve our service to our students. If there is concern that the Code, in its present form, is inconsistent with the spirit of our school community, we want to know and we want to help. Further, we value our students’ voice and thinking especially in decisions that impact them so personally. School dress codes are never easy and we know that fashion sometimes conflicts — still, we want to get it right and we will be working with our students and stakeholders to do just that.”

Cydney suggested polling students when setting school guidelines about self-expression and only enforcing the dress code in extreme and offensive circumstances. “Samantha feels awful, but she didn’t do anything provocative.”

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