Photo: Mahdi Charara

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Girls at this school were told to cover up for prom – or get a “modesty poncho”

The Catholic school said it was a “fun deterrent”. From what, exactly?

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By Amy Jones on

A Catholic school in Detroit is planning to give female students who are dressed in what they deem to be a revealing manner “modesty ponchos” to wear to prom.

Divine Child High School, in Dearborn, Michigan, put the ponchos on display in the school alongside a note that stated: “If your dress does not meet our Formal Dance Dress Requirements — no problem! We've got you covered — literally. This is our Modesty Poncho, which you'll be given at the door.” The note is signed off with a smiley face.

The teacher behind the modesty ponchos is Mary Pat O’Malley, who teaches theology. She said, “We are trying to focus on the inner beauty and not draw attention to something that doesn't need attention drawn to it. It was really intended as a deterrent, and a lighthearted one at that.”

Rather than being a “fun deterrent”, what the ponchos are actually doing is causing students undue stress on what should be one of the most fun nights of their year. Junior Erin Wade bought her dress back in January. Both she and her mother believed that the dress was appropriate, and stuck to the guidelines the school had already set out and that she had signed. The sudden appearance of the modesty ponchos and the fear of having to wear a bright pink poncho during her prom has worried her so much that she and her mother have started looking for another dress with less than a fortnight to go before prom.

Students and some parents are concerned about the messages these ponchos are sending out. An anonymous student told FOX 2 that “I do believe the school has gone too far with this," she said. "As we walk into prom, we are to shake hands with all the teachers and if you walk through and a teacher deems your dress is inappropriate you will be given a poncho at the door.” The student wished to remain anonymous because she is afraid of retaliation if teachers know who she is.

A parent, who also wished to remain anonymous, said, “It's a method of shaming, a method of building and degrading to females and its interpretation what's modest and what isn’t.”

Threatening students with humiliation for dressing in a way the teachers deem to be too sexual is appalling behaviour

Some students are claiming that it’s not even down to your dress, but what your body looks like in general. Jenny Lessnau wrote, in a now-deleted tweet, “I really have a problem with the fact that if you happen to have big boobs at DC, and wear a dress that is even a little low, that will warrant a 'modesty poncho' EVERY time. they basically body shame girls if they’re bigger than a B cup.”

Divine Child High School has now released a statement saying that the ponchos were never intended to be handed out in the first place and were only a reminder to students that they are required to dress “modestly”. However, this is contradictory to not only reports from the students themselves, but to an interview conducted by Jessica Dupnack of FOX2, who stated on Twitter that, “During our interview Monday it was clearly stated they would be passed out & some students have already requested & received them.”

Perhaps there has been a mistake in communication somewhere – or perhaps the school believe that dressing immodestly is a greater sin than lying. Either way, threatening students – and let’s face it, it’s female students who would have been forced to wear these ponchos – with humiliation for dressing in a way the teachers deem to be too sexual is appalling behaviour. The school’s goal may have been to draw attention to inner beauty, but they have instead acted in a very ugly way indeed.

@jimsyjampots

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Photo: Mahdi Charara
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School
Sexism
dress code

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