-- The senior portrait of a recent California high school graduate has gone viral thanks to her senior quote that took a jab at her school’s dress code policy.
Cross, 17, said she was motivated to leave that message as her quote after she saw herself and her female classmates penalized for what she said teachers and administrators described as “distracting” clothes.
“I’ve been talking to the administrators about the dress code for all of this year and nothing got done, which is why I wanted to say something in the yearbook,” Cross told ABC News. “It was my one, last chance to ask them why they blame girls’ wardrobes [for] others' academic failures.”
“They’re literally saying that girls are responsible for wearing attire that makes it easy for people around them to learn, that they’re too distracting if they’re showing skin and they need to take time out of their day to cover up so everyone else can focus, because apparently they couldn’t before,” Cross said.
“The fact that girls have to get up and leave a class where they’re learning something so the guy next to them doesn’t get distracted, that seems really sexist to me,” she said.
Cross said she ran afoul of the high school’s dress code earlier this year -- for shorts that sat above the bottom of her fingertips on her 5-foot-10 frame -- and she was told to return home to get new clothes, thereby missing class time.
“I’m not trying to say that I feel like I don’t need to follow the rules and dress inappropriately,” Cross said. “It was much broader than that, pointing out how ridiculous it is to blame someone’s attire for other people not focusing in class.”
In a statement to ABC News, a spokeswoman for the San Mateo Unified School District said the district “holds the free speech of everyone -- especially our students -- sacred.
“The District team -- from administrators to teachers to support staff -- encourages our students to freely express their views and their interpretation of events and policies that they feel impact them. Having the confidence to share one's views helps a student grow and become an independent thinker, and that is something we want for all students,” Sheri Costa-Batis, the district’s communications manager, said.
The dress code in the student handbook on the school’s website says students are expected to “dress in a manner which is not disruptive to the learning process, is safe and does not construe gang affiliation".
Listed among examples of "inappropriate" dress is "suggestive, revealing, or transparent attire that could divert attention from the learning process or may contribute to inappropriate conduct. (Examples: front or back cleavage exposure, short skirts/shorts/high slit skirts)".
“Meanwhile, guys take their shirts off at lunch or wear bro tanks where you can see their chests,” Cross said of what she views as a disparity in how the two sexes are treated.
"They started doing daily announcements saying the dress code and, for girls, it went on for a minute and, for guys, it’s like three things," Cross said. "For girls, it’s a laundry list of impossible things, especially with the stores where teenage girls shop."
However, the school’s dress code does not single out one gender’s clothing over another and includes many examples of clothing boys might wear that it considers inappropriate.
Cross says her yearbook senior quote was approved by the yearbook adviser and she has not heard from any administrators since its publication last month.
The Loyola Marymount University-bound student graduated from San Mateo High School on May 28. She said she hopes her yearbook quote -- which she posted on Instagram with the caption, "Bye!" -- at least raises awareness.
“I hope it at least makes people think about it and makes girls more aware that it’s not because they’re a bad person or they look slutty, it’s because the school is just trying to protect these poor boys who can’t figure out how to look at their paper,” Cross said.