In a response to how Braden River High School officials treated a girl who didn't wear a bra to school, the American Civil Liberties Union called the Manatee Schools District's dress code enforcement sexist and the district's ban on protests unconstitutional.
Their stance was sparked by an incident on April 2, when 17-year-old Lizzy Martinez wore a long-sleeve shirt and no bra to school. In response, administrators at Braden River told Martinez to wear a second shirt and then to cover her nipples with bandages.
While the school district has said the incident was not handled properly, it also said Martinez was causing a distraction and therefore violating the dress code.
"As described above, the justification proffered for the enforcement of the dress code against Ms. Martinez was rooted in sex stereotypes that male students were 'distracted' by her nipples and a paternalistic desire to 'protect' Ms. Martinez from the laughter and stares of her male classmates," the ACLU wrote in a letter to the district on Monday. "The justification reflects overly broad and archaic generalizations about boys' inability to control their impulses and girls' inability to make their own decisions about the clothing that makes them feel safe and comfortable."
School district spokesman Mike Barber said officials were reviewing the letter and would have a response on Tuesday.
Martinez, who wasn't available for comment Monday, hosted a "bracott" the following week, encouraging students to not wear a bra, to write a message on their shirts or to simply speak out against the school's actions.
In a message sent to students and parents throughout the district, and in an announcement over the Braden River intercom, school officials warned against protests or other demonstrations, which they said could distract from ongoing testing.
In its letter on Monday, the ACLU said actions against Martinez and her fellow students violated several state and federal laws that deal with free speech, sex discrimination and equal access to education.
Along with suffering from emotional distress, the incident caused Martinez to miss about a week of school and several exams, the letter states. The ACLU listed several suggestions:
- Remove a section of the dress code that prohibits "personal attire or grooming (that) distracts the attention of other students or teachers from their school work," which leads to "arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement," the letter states.
- Publish written guidelines prohibiting school officials from enforcing the dress code in a discriminatory manner.
- Train district officials on the parameters of the aforementioned guidelines.
- Refrain from requiring bras in the dress code next school year, which Superintendent Diana Greene allegedly suggested in a phone call with Martinez's mother.
"A school's dress code cannot make generalizations about what types of clothing or appearance are appropriate for a boy or a girl to wear to school," said Nancy Abudu, ACLU of Florida legal director, in a prepared statement. "Unfortunately, we often see gender stereotypes and discrimination play a prolific role in the enforcement of school dress codes across the country — and Florida is not an outlier."