The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

New kid at school forced to wear ‘shame suit’ for dress code violation

On her third day at a new school, Miranda Larkin had to go to class in red sweatpants and a hideous, oversized neon yellow T-shirt with “DRESS CODE VIOLATION” emblazoned across the chest and down the leg – an ensemble no high-school kid would voluntarily be caught dead in. Especially not a new one.

The 15-year-old moved to Clay County, Fla., from Seattle just eight days before school started and wasn’t familiar with the public school’s dress code, which says skirts can be no more than three inches above the knee. The black skirt she was wearing hovered closer to 4 inches above her knees.

Larkin was walking down the hallway of Oakleaf High School after first period when a teacher pointed at her from across the hall and said “your skirt is too short,” she told USA Today.

She was sent to the nurse’s office and instructed to put on a “dress code violation outfit” that her mother described as a “shame suit,” ABC reported.

“The school has said this is to embarrass you,” Miranda told ABC. “It’s supposed to embarrass you so you don’t do it again.”

It worked.

“She put on the outfit in the bathroom and looked at herself in the mirror and just broke down. She started sobbing and broke out in hives,” her mother, Dianna Larkin, told USA Today.

A Clay County school district spokesman told ABC students who violate the dress code have three options: in-school suspension; go to class in the dress code violation outfit; or have someone bring a dress code-compliant outfit to school for them to change into.

Miranda said the only option she was given was to wear the humiliating outfit. She called her mother and was ultimately allowed to leave school early.

“She’s a good kid,” Miranda’s mother told ABC. “She actually has a perfect disciplinary record. I’m not a rescue mom. I really do believe in punishing my kids if they do something wrong, but this is not about punishing kids. This is about humiliation.”

The teen’s mom is so upset about the way her daughter was treated that she plans to file a complaint under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, which says student records, including disciplinary actions, cannot be released without permission.

“I feel that by putting a kid in an outfit that says what they did wrong across their chest and down their leg is taking their private records and making them public and that’s a clear violation of their privacy rights” she told USA Today.

The School Board attorney disagrees. “[The outfit] is not displaying a discipline record to the public,” he said in a statement obtained by USA Today. “If we took off the words the other students would still know that the prison orange T-shirts were for dress code violations. I think that the practice is OK.”

In a letter to the ABC, Larkin wrote: “My problem is not with the dress code itself. I am actually a proponent of school uniforms (which trust me does NOT make my kids happy), and believe that if you break the rules of the school you should be punished regardless of your opinion of the rule itself. My problem is with the public shaming of kids.”