After being homeschooled for a few years, Lily Farrell couldn't wait to start sixth grade at Discovery Middle School in Alexandria. She says she was so excited that she couldn't sleep.
But now, the 11-year-old can't sleep for another reason. She says she has been having anxiety attacks after being told she was not dressing appropriately at school.
Her mother, Lacey Farrell, said the problems started after Lily said her teacher told her to change three days in a row - on Sept. 26, 27 and 28 - without saying specifically which aspect of the dress code Lily was not meeting.
"Most of her clothes are from Maurices," Lacey said. "Her breasts do not show, her bottom does not show and she wears tank tops that cover her bottom area as well."
The situation gained attention when Lily's grandmother in Wisconsin posted on Facebook recounting what had happened. The post now has more than 300 shares and more than 400 comments.
According to Lily, her teacher made comments about her clothing in front of her peers the first two times, and pulled her out in the hallway the third time.
"She said, 'This is the third time I've told you, I'm sick and tired of telling you this, you need to go change into your gym clothes,'" Lily said. "I didn't want to change because when I go to gym I sweat like crazy and I'd already worn them."
According to Lacey, she was not contacted by the school on any of the three days Lily was asked to change. She only became aware of the situation once Lily told her, after other kids began calling her names. She then attempted to contact Lily's teacher, who did not return her call. Lacey says she spoke to the principal and another teacher instead, and that they had not seen any issue with Lily's clothing.
Another issue, says Lacey, is that the school district never made her or Lily aware of the dress code. Once she read the specifics, Lacey says it is still unclear what aspect of Lily's clothes were not meeting the code.
Principal Matt Aker did not return an email regarding a comment on the dress code, but according to a statement from the school district, "Middle school staff review district and school policies with students at the beginning of the school year. These policies, including information on dress code, are included in the student agenda book. Each student receives a copy of the student agenda book."
Lily, who started the school year two weeks late due to previously planning to be homeschooled, says she was never told this.
"I didn't know it (the dress code) was even in there," she said. "No one told me."
The dress code is not included on the school's website.
Lily did not go to school Friday, Sept. 29, saying she was afraid the same thing would happen a fourth time. She says she was OK with her grandmother posting about the situation on Facebook because she didn't want other kids to feel the way she has been feeling.
"It made me feel ugly inside," Lily said. "I was embarrassed in front of my classmates. It was just really frustrating. In the mornings I am very scared about what I should wear and what I shouldn't wear. And at nighttime I'm up for a long time because I have anxiety."
Lily says the whole situation has taken a toll on the way she views herself, which was never an issue before. Other students have been making comments about her appearance.
"She (another student) called me fat and said, 'You're big,'" Lily said. "I just kind of feel ugly inside and outside and I don't like that."
Seeing her daughter feel that way is also affecting Lacey, who says she has worked Lily's whole life to teach her she is beautiful inside and out.
"How long is she going to have this anxiety and feeling like this?" Lacey said. "You can't reverse this. You can't delete this. This is going to be something that's going to be an ongoing struggle for a while."
Lacey is now searching for a new school for Lily, as she is adamant about not returning to Discovery Middle School. Lacey says she hopes the administration can determine a better way to address these situations and make the dress code more clear.
"They need to change their policy or at least clarify it a lot better than it is," Lacey said. "If there is a problem, they need to contact the parents. Don't be going to the kid in front of classmates and letting other kids hear this. I think it's appropriate (to contact a parent). I think it's more professional than all of this."
Discovery Middle School dress code
Excerpt from student agenda book:
Dress: We believe how you look and dress can make a difference. We expect clothing which is appropriate for learning and does not interfere with the learning of others.
Examples of clothes which are not acceptable include, but are not limited to the following:
• Clothing which advertises cigarettes, alcohol or promotes chemical usage
• Clothing which displays profanity or which shows the human body in an offensive way
• Clothing which is racist
• Gang related clothing, including but not limited to bandanas, jackets, hats/caps
• All hats, caps, sunglasses and hoods
• Jewelry that promotes chemical usage or that could be dangerous to oneself or others
• Jewelry that could be considered potentially harmful, i.e. spiked collar necklaces, bracelets, wallet chains
• Dresses/skirts/shorts/skorts will be considered in violation of the dress code if they are not below one's fingertips when arms are resting at student's side
• Clothing that is perceived by administration to show excessive amounts of skin. This includes halter tops and midriff tops exposing the navel region of the body. All undergarments must be covered by clothing, along with midriff, and cannot be visible during normal movement (reaching, bending, etc.). This includes all shirts and tank tops. (Straps need to be at least one inch thick over each shoulder).
Note: Any current fads that the administration deems inappropriate for our school may be prohibited.