What’s more important? Following the rules no matter what, or standing up for yourself?
This story was originally reported by WCNC-TV in North Carolina.
What would keep an otherwise bright young woman from attending the college of her choosing? Too much partying? Lack of focus? Trouble at home?
In the case of a high school senior from Harrisburg, North Carolina, the threat to her future is posed by a shirt she chose to wear to school, and her decision to resist the principals attempt at discipline.
The young woman, known as ‘Summer’, is an honor roll student with a 4.4 GPA. She has already been accepted into a pre-med program at a major university, with a full-ride scholarship to boot. But being a diligent student apparently isnt enough to keep you out of trouble at Summers high school.
Last Wednesday, Summer was eating lunch in the cafeteria. According to her, she was approached by the principal, Mrs. Michelle Cline, who indicated that her shirt was inappropriate because it revealed her collarbone and the tops of her shoulders.
By the way, here is the shirt in question. Scandalous, right?
The principal asked if Summer had a jacket she could put on over top of her shirt. Summer, evidently annoyed, rebutted that her shirt was “fine.” Not fine, according to Mrs. Cline, who told her that the shirt also left too much of her lower back showing.
Summer again protested: even if she wanted to comply, she didnt have a jacket. A friend offered her one, and she decided that it was probably in her best interest to play along.
According to Summer: “I pulled [the shirt] up, put the jacket over it, zipped up the jacket.”
After getting the student to comply with her instructions, Principal Cline then inexplicably decided to send Summer to the office anyway to change her clothes.
This wasnt the senior’s first contentious run-in with Mrs. Cline. According to Summer’s mother, a number of concerning incidents led her to instruct the school not to discipline Summer without contacting her first.
It was for this reason that Summer refused to obey when the principal tried to send her to the office, insisting that she didnt have to go anywhere without her mothers say-so. After multiple attempts, neither Summer nor the principal were able to get her mother on the phone.
When the lunch period ended, Summer went with a number of her friends to the schools auditorium. Everything was fine until Mrs. Cline showed up again, with a police officer in tow, and decided to escalate the situation. (continued)
Keep reading on the next page.
According to Summer, this is what happened.
The principal ordered everyone out of the auditorium except for herself, Summer, and the school’s police officer.
The officer approached, and placed his hand on his gun. That was when Principal Cline informed Summer that she could either go to the office willingly and change her shirt, or be placed under arrest.
“I stayed in my seat,” says Summer of this incident. “Just like a lot of role models that I have looked up to stayed in their seats. I mean, you have to stand up for what you believe in.”
The principal told the officer to place Summer under arrest, but her mother managed to call back before that could happen.
Summer was given a 10-day suspension – not for the dress code violation, but because of her “insubordination.” She was also forbidden from participating in any senior activities for the remainder of the year, including graduation itself.
This is obviously a major disappointment for someone who put so much effort into their academic performance. “We have drug dealers walking across that stage, “she says, “we have sex offenders walking across that stage. And then the 4.4 student who showed her shoulders can’t.”
According to Summer, the principal is still considering expelling her, and her mother is appealing to the school board. “A full ride [scholarship] means so much,” she says, “and that is on the line right now.”
To be as fair as possible to the principal, Summer’s shirt was explicitly in violation of the school’s public dress code. Mrs. Cline was within her rights to insist that she cover herself up.
But there’s something so infuriating about throwing this young woman’s future into doubt over the issue of “insubordination”. I mean, are you running a high school, or an army corps?
As Summer rightly pointed out, the people who have pushed the greatest reforms in history were those who refused to comply with rules they felt were unjust. Is that insubordination, or is it independent thinking with a splash of courage?
High schools should encourage students to think critically about the rules, written and unwritten, that govern our lives, and to take a stand when those rules don’t comport with common sense and decency. If Rosa Parks had followed “the rules”, she would have been stuck in the back of the bus forever. Nobody should be ashamed to see a young woman following that example.
And no young woman should be ashamed that somebody might see her collarbone.