School under fire for homecoming dance dress code debacle: ‘Embarrassed and violated’

Three of the girls pictured here (in fitted white, solid green and maroon dresses) were denied entry. (Photo: Courtesy of Carrie Vittitoe)

A high school dance in Middletown, Ky. descended into a dress code debacle as several female students were reportedly denied entry — and one “furious’ mom says officials put teens at risk in the process.

As the Louisville Courier-Journal reports, Carrie Vittitoe is among several parents outraged by the alleged crackdown on dresses worn by female students to Eastern High School’s homecoming dance last Saturday. In a blog post about the situation, the mom of three says officials outside the dance singled out female students and measured hemlines with a ruler. Those whose dresses were deemed unsuitable — falling shorter than two inches above the knee — were allegedly refused entry, even after they paid the entry fee — though Vittitoe and her 15-year-old daughter say the dress code was “arbitrary,” with some girls escaping scrutiny despite wearing similar outfits.

Vittitoe says the girl in the short red dress on the left was denied entry because she was showing too much cleavage; the girl in green was allowed in. (Photo: Courtesy of Carrie Vittitoe)

In a letter to the school posted on Vittitoe’s blog, her teen daughter — whose name is being withheld for the sake of her privacy — told school administrators that she and her friends “were absolutely horrified, and felt embarrassed and violated” after being subjected to the dress code crackdown.

“We had just been told that covering our bodies was more important than having fun,” the teen wrote.

Vittitoe tells Yahoo Lifestyle that her daughter was allowed into the dance, but decided to leave because the experience of being measured and criticized for her dress was too upsetting.

“The administrator asked my daughter to pull her dress down closer to her knees,” Vittitoe says. “My daughter complied. The administrator said, ‘You barely made it.’ At that point, my daughter burst into tears. She and her friends decided they were far too upset to actually attend the dance at this point.”

Vittitoe says all of the girls pictured here were turned away. (Photo: Courtesy of Carrie Vittitoe)

Both mother and daughter claim the dress code was not consistently enforced. Photos taken by other parents and shared with Vittitoe and Yahoo Lifestyle show various dresses that were allegedly banned from the dance, though they seem nearly identical to other dresses that made the cut. Vittitoe says the same thing happened at last year’s homecoming dance.

“Last year, because my daughter was a freshman, I followed the dress code to the letter,” she says, noting that finding a dress long enough for her 5’8” daughter is a struggle. “When I saw the dresses that Eastern allowed in last year at the homecoming dance, I was angry. I saved photos of girls from that homecoming dance so that if my daughter was ever not allowed in, I would have evidence for the EHS staff to say, ‘Then why did these dresses get in at the 2018 dance?’ Dress codes are easy to write but impossible to enforce consistently. This was the case this year, too. I have photos of girls whose dresses are the same length but one girl got in and another didn't.”

After hearing from her daughter, Vittitoe returned to the school to pick her up, bringing a sign reading “Down With Sexist Dress Codes,” according to her blog post. (Though the dress code debacle reportedly mostly involved female students, one boy was turned away for not wearing a tie, she says.) That’s when she noticed several stranded teens who had been refused entry.

“EHS staff, more or less, tossed students off the property in the dark on a Saturday night to fend for themselves,” she tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “The kids who were hanging around after the dance can't drive. Older students with cars left the premises. There were no staff members supervising these kids, so I took it upon myself, along with another mom's help, to stay with these students until their parents picked them up. The EHS staff put students in an unsafe situation.”

The school is speaking out about the dress code debacle. (Photo: Courtesy of Carrie Vittitoe)

In a letter EHS’s spokeswoman shared with Yahoo Lifestyle, Principal Lana Kaelin addressed the situation to parents and vowed to review the dress code.

“I wanted to take some time today to address what happened this weekend at our homecoming dance as well as our path moving forward,” the letter, sent on Monday, reads. “I understand your concerns and truly regret that some of our students were not able to enjoy their evening. Understandably, we had students and families who were upset or hurt by what took place, and for that, I apologize.

“The dress code for our formal dances will be reviewed by student, parent and teacher representatives so that we can gather valuable feedback and suggestions that will help ensure the dress code is fair and equitable for all students. Additionally, I want you to know that we will be reviewing how we communicate the dress code to all students and families as well as our processes for entering the dances to ensure that families feel both informed and welcomed to our events.

“At the end of the day, we want to make certain that all students are able to come and enjoy the dances, and that parents also feel the events are safe and fun for their students. To that end, we will be working with our different stakeholders of our school community to ensure that happens.”

James Craig, a board member for Jefferson County Public Schools, also told the Courier-Journal that officials “will be reaching out to students, parents and teachers to ensure that everyone’s voice is heard” before the next school dance in the spring.

Vittitoe, however, says that the dress code drama isn’t limited to dances, saying that an effort by parents to adopt the dress code in accordance with those at other local schools was “shot down by administration” last year. Girls, she says, are the ones who pay the price.

“The school bookstore last year sold leggings, even though girls can't wear leggings to school,” she adds. “The bookstore sells shorts, but girls can't wear those shorts to school. At the pep rally that was held last week, girls in the homecoming court had to wear dress-code length shorts, even though their fall sports teammates were in shorts that don't meet dress code. Kids need consistency, and they have not gotten it from the dress code or its arbitrary enforcement.”

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