Ottawa high school that held dress code 'blitz' holds discussions with students

School officials are holding meetings with students at an Orléans French Catholic high school this week to discuss changes to the dress code, after hundreds of students protested the way it was enforced.

The Conseil des écoles catholiques du Centre-Est continues to investigate the dress code "blitz" at École secondaire catholique Béatrice-Desloges last Thursday, which students said left them feeling degraded and humiliated.

Superintendent of education Jason Dupuis told parents that the board and the school will discuss changes to the dress code moving forward.

"Meetings will be organized with the students in order to review certain elements specific to the dress code of Béatrice-Desloges," Dupuis wrote. "With the active participation of students and staff, this process will update the dress code to reflect changing expectation ... while providing a positive, healthy and safe learning environment for all the students in the classes."

“There are other ways of enforcing a dress code, so we’ve told our community that this was not acceptable,” Dupuis told CTV News on Monday.

He said officials are hearing from a lot of students that the rules aren’t enforced exactly the same for different body types.

“We’ve heard from lots of girls who have their opinion regarding this and say, ‘You know, sometimes one piece of fashion will be fine on one and not another and it’s the same piece of clothing.’ So we’re looking at what we can do to make sure that the students have an equal perspective on this.”

Dupuis previously told Newstalk 580 CFRA the board and the school will look at changes to the dress code to "be in line with fashion of 2022".

"Fashion evolves very quickly and schools have to adjust," Dupuis said.

Nearly 400 students protested outside Béatrice-Desloges school on Friday, one day after the principal and senior staff conducted a dress code "blitz" to ensure students were complying with the dress code.

Sophie Labbée, 18, was one of the students called out of class because of her wardrobe. She said she was told her shorts were too short.

“She said that they had to be mid-thigh, and made me do this weird test where I bend my knee and she touched my thigh and showed me that that was my mid-thigh and if it was any shorter than that it was inappropriate,” she told CTV News Ottawa.

The CECCE Director of Education sent a letter to parents over the weekend apologizing for the way the dress code was enforced, adding the board is following up with all schools to ensure that this situation does not happen again.

"This dress code verification strategy is not encouraged by the CECCE and is not acceptable," Marc Bertrand wrote. "All students must absolutely be treated with dignity and respect. No student should be subject to such a check of his or her clothing and even less to be challenged in front of his or her peers. The strategy employed by the school last Thursday unfortunately does not reflect these values, which are very dear to the CECCE."

Bertrand confirmed some students, "mostly girls", were called to go out to the hallway as part of the audit of the dress code.

"Some students have been asked to bend their leg backwards at the knee as they were standing in order to check if the shorts worn complied with the dress code," Bertrand wrote, adding no student was asked to bend over, nor was any student's clothing measured by a ruler.

Bertrand says board staff will be back at the school on Monday to meet with students.

"The administration of the Conseil des écoles catholiques du Centre-Est is sincerely sorry for this outcome and wishes to apologize to the students and families who have been disturbed by these events,” Bertrand said. “Follow-ups are underway with all of the CECCE schools in order to ensure that such a situation does not happen again.” 

Many students on Monday agreed that some sort of dress code is necessary to attend school, but they way it was enforced last week was unacceptable.

“It’s really embarrassing to be pulled out of class because of what you’re wearing, especially when it’s hot outside,” Grade 11 student Emilie Boisvert said. “You don’t want to be told by teachers ‘oh you can’t wear this or you can’t wear that’ in like a really embarrassing manner."

Another Grade 11 student, Amber-Lily Bergeron, said the dress code should be more flexible.

“I think we definitely need them because people would be showing up in not appropriate things, but I think it’s very difficult to buy to the dress code when you go shopping. So I think we should have a dress code but be more flexible about it.”

Emilie Guindon, also in Grade 11, said a dress code is not necessary.

“No I don’t think you need a dress code,” she said. “Just know the limits of what to wear. Don’t wear booty shorts and a sports bra at school. The rest just doesn’t make sense.”

Dress code

The dress code for École secondaire catholique Béatrice-Desloges is part of the code of conduct for students.

"I come to school in clean, decent and appropriate clothing for my school environment since it is my workplace," says the dress code on the website.

The dress code states:

"My clothing or accessories are without word or design vulgar, offensive, violent, hateful, racist, harmful, marginal or related to drugs or alcohol"

"My hands, skirt or shorts are of appropriate length (mid-thigh) and worn so that my underwear does not show"

"My sweater, t-shirt, shirt or blouse is of a length that covers my upper body completely, that covers my shoulders by an appropriate width, and is worn in such a way that my undergarment does not appear"

"It is forbidden to wear pajamas at school or during virtual classes except during activities organized by the school"

WIth files from CTV News Ottawa's Ted Raymond.