Beaufort High principal responds to students' dress-code rant

Carey Burgess in a photograph she posted on her Facebook page.
Carey Burgess in a photograph she posted on her Facebook page. Facebook

A Beaufort High School student's diatribe against an alleged dress code violation reached thousands of people on social media just hours after she said a skirt landed her in in-school suspension.

Carey Burgess, who wrote on Facebook that she is Beaufort High's student body president, said a staff member who saw her walking in the hall Tuesday morning told her that her khaki skirt was "too short" and gave her an in-school suspension.

"Thank you for bringing me to tears in front of my friends and classmates because you do not have the decency to pull me aside and explain the problem. Then again, I did not have the decency to put on real clothes today," Burgess wrote.

By 2 p.m. Wednesday, a day after she took to Facebook, Burgess' words and a picture of her outfit had garnered about 45 comments, 300 likes and 2,100 shares. Reached Wednesday afternoon, she said she has been accused of breaking dress code several times before for wearing the same striped sweater she wore with the skirt Tuesday, corduroy pants, skinny pants and navy sweaters.

"I wore the sweater (again) because the dress code is so shaky -- some days it's OK, other days they'll tell me to take it off," said Burgess, 17.

While she admitted she has been at fault in some of the instances, Burgess stressed she is speaking out not only against the school's enforcement but sexist comments and jokes by some male students and staff.

"Community support has been more than I ever imagined," she said about the reaction to her post. "I was shocked to find out how many girls at all Beaufort County schools feel oppressed and discriminated against in the classroom."

Principal Corey Murphy said he attributed the reach of Burgess' post to her talent and passionate writing more than a widespread problem in the enforcement of his school's policies.

"She's a wonderful writer; she's a very gifted writer," he said. "That's what it was, you can feel the emotion in her words. Something like that, that's impressive."

Murphy said he could not comment on individual student discipline, but said that he immediately spoke with administrator Jennifer Woods, who stopped Burgess, and found that Woods handled the incident "just like I would have expected her to and the same way we would have handled any other kid in the same situation."

He added that Burgess' outfit as depicted in the Facebook photo, though, was within the dress code.

According to the Beaufort County School District, skirts must be "modest and of sufficient length," no shorter than three inches above the top of the knee when standing.

For a first offense, a student is to be informed of their dress code breach and given a chance to change into acceptable clothing, according to the student code of conduct. Only then should administrators relegate a student to in-school suspension. Subsequent violations could result in parent conferences or out-of-school suspensions.

Many Facebook commenters were adults who said they approved of Burgess' choice of clothes, such as one college student who shared the post of a Battery Creek High School student who said she was sent home for wearing tight pants.

"This system is misogynistic and promotes sexism," that student, Talia Isabela Parisi, wrote Oct. 1. "I am offended by the way I've been spoken to and made to feel like a villain in my own school for trying to go to class, get my work done, & leave like I'm supposed to."

Other commenters were current and former Beaufort High students, such as one female student who said she has experienced similar treatment.

"How is my skirt so short to get sent home but guys can wear (Chubbies) and expose WAY more leg than me & still be in school," the girl wrote, referencing a brand of particularly short men's shorts.

The Chubbies Shorts website features several pictures of models whose 5.5-inch-inseam wares show far more than 3 inches of thigh.

When asked about that brand, Murphy took to the Internet and found examples in which he said some wearers looked appropriate and others did not.

"I won't vilify a garment," he said. "It's just the wear of it."

Burgess and Murphy agreed that dress codes are a minor issue compared with education and instruction. There were only 71 dress code violations reported in the 2013-14 school year out of more than 5,000 infractions, according to the district. Ten of the dress code violations were reported at Beaufort High School. The number of dress code violations in the 2014-15 school year was not available.

The quality of instruction in Burgess' classroom, however, was the reason she was in the hall Tuesday, she wrote.

Her teacher reportedly excused her to go to the vending machines because she was planning to do nothing, "as usual," according to Burgess' post.

Murphy said he plans to speak with the teacher in question but added that most students, including his own daughter, invariably tell their parents they did nothing at school, day after day.

Burgess, however, is a particularly high-achieving student, and recipient of a Palmetto Fellows scholarship.

On Tuesday, she wrote, she dressed for a lesson with the Teacher Cadet Program, which works to encourage high-achieving high school students to pursue careers in teaching or as civic advocates for public education.

The school, however, responded to her outfit as if she were "dressing to go to a night club or the whore house," Burgess added. "... Maybe our society isn't yet advanced enough to handle 3 inches of my thigh. This is a patriarchal society and I am a woman. I have to be kept in my place, or I may do something that is so rarely seen in Beaufort High School -- learn."

Related stories from The State in Columbia SC