It’s the time of year when America’s students are heading back to school—which means a resurgence of the age-old battle between teens and adults over what’s appropriate clothing for the classroom. It also means a return of female students being singled out and shamed for the short length of their skirts.
School superintendent Ronda Bass, an administrator in Noble, Okla., about 30 minutes south of Oklahoma City, has ignited a firestorm over comments she made to girls at Noble High School. Bass allegedly checked the length of female students’ shorts by asking them to bend over and referred to some of the girls as "skanks."
Bass was at the high school on Aug. 21, the first day of school. “As I was greeting the children coming in, I knew we had a major, major problem on our hands,” Bass told WFOR, referring to students’ clothing choices. Although surely some boys were breaking the school’s dress code, the administrator decided to only pull the girls aside for an assembly to talk about outfits.
“The first question I asked was ‘how many of you in here believe that there are female students on the campus today that are dressed completely inappropriate?’ ” said Bass. “Most of their hands went up.”
But senior Stephanie Stewart told the station that Bass’ account wasn’t accurate.
“The first sentence was ‘Have y’all ever seen any “skanks” around this school?’ ” said Stewart, who also claimed that Bass told the girls that she didn’t “want to see anyone’s ass hanging out of their shorts.”
“I knew that students from other towns were calling our girls really negative names,” Bass replied when asked by a WFOR reporter if she’d used that language with the girls. “The message I wanted to send to them was ‘I don’t want them to be called those names.’ I want us to be known as the classy lady Bears.”
The morning after the assembly, Bass was on campus again. Stewart said that the administrator began singling out girls and asking them to stand up so their outfits could be checked. Stewart said that’s when Bass began asking some girls, including Stewart, whose dress was deemed too short, to bend over.
“If you’re not comfortable with bending over, we might have a problem,” Bass allegedly said.
Boys may be prone to wearing sagging pants, but at most schools girls seem to disproportionately be the target of dress code enforcement. In May, a Utah high school used Photoshop to add higher necklines and sleeves to clothing in girls’ yearbook photos. In June in Montreal, a high school administrator walked from classroom to classroom checking the length of girls’ clothing.
The Canadian school sent 15-year-old Lindsay Stocker home because her shorts were deemed inappropriately short. Stocker protested the decision by creating posters she taped around the school that read, “Don’t humiliate her because she is wearing shorts. It’s hot outside. Instead of shaming girls for their bodies, teach boys that girls are not sexual objects.”
As for Bass, she stands by her decision to take the girls of Noble High School to task for their clothing.
“Our female students are pushing the limits,” she wrote in an email to the rest of the faculty, according to WFOR. “We all know this to be true.... Please help us stay on top of this until a new norm of modesty is established.”
Meanwhile, many of the high school’s girls went home embarrassed and crying. “A lot of girls actually felt humiliated,” said Stewart. “You could see it in their faces that they were.” Angry community members have launched a petition calling for Bass to step down.