Every parent knows what it’s like to pick their children up from school wearing something different than they were wearing that morning. Usually, it’s for an innocent reason. With young children, having potty accidents or getting messy on the playground are par for the course.
But when a Minnesota mother found out the reasoning behind her 5-year-old daughter’s outfit change it was much more concerning.
Emily Stewart had sent her daughter to school in a summer dress and a sweater. The dress was a gift from her grandmother. When she picked her daughter up from kindergarten that afternoon, she was wearing a T-shirt and jeans.
It turns out that the school’s dress code states that students may not wear spaghetti straps.
It was all well and good when Stewart’s daughter arrived at school because she was wearing a sweater. But when she took the sweater off, the teacher took her aside.
The incident had the 5-year-old in tears, which concerned her mother. But she’s even more upset about one thing: in her mind, asking a child to change out of a spaghetti strap dress implies that she was dressed inappropriately.
Stewart also felt that her daughter had been unable to advocate for herself because of her age.
“I think that when we’re talking about the body of a little girl and determining what’s appropriate and what’s not, you need to talk to the parent because that’s a violation of her privacy and her body without consulting anybody,” said Stewart.
Stewart immediately contacted the school asking for an explanation.
She also made a Facebook post about it.
“It didn’t occur to me that an adult would look at my 5-year-old child and think that wearing a dress was inappropriate,” said Stewart.
She was deeply upset about the messages that were being sent by teachers and school administrators, including the school nurse who made her change.
“As a mother, how am I supposed to teach my daughter to love and celebrate her body when she has people telling her she ‘needs privacy,’” Stewart wrote in her Facebook post. “What exactly is private about a 5-year-olds shoulders? Why is it ok to put my daughters bare shoulders before her education? Why was her dress looked at as an inappropriate outfit to begin with? She is 5 why is she being sexualized? How do I teach a little girl that what she wears and her appearance is not nearly as important as her education and self development when things like this happen?”
Her daughter was also humiliated by the interaction and started to sob in the car.
She had been excited to wear a dress — especially considering that Minnesota rarely has nice weather. The dress was a gift from her grandmother.
The story does have a happy ending, however.
After Stewart raised the issue, the school reviewed its dress code policy and amended it. School administrators are no longer permitted to make assessments about the appropriateness of a child’s clothes.
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