April 30, 2018

MIAMI — The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Florida demanded today that the School District of Manatee County, Florida, change its unconstitutional student dress code and protest policies.

In a letter sent to the school district and principal of Braden River High School, the civil liberties organizations explained that administrators’ treatment of Lizzy Martinez and her fellow students violate Title IX, which guarantees freedom from sex discrimination in schools, the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, the freedom of speech guaranteed in the First Amendment, as well as Florida’s Educational Equality Act.

The ACLU is intervening after Martinez, a 17-year-old junior at Braden River, was disciplined for not wearing a bra under her shirt to school due to a painful sunburn. School administration removed her from class, told her she was distracting other students, and required her to put Band-Aids over her nipples for the rest of the day. The school maintained that it was doing this in Martinez’s best interest — but then proceeded to block her on Twitter when she complained that she felt sexualized, and it discouraged students from participating in a student protest against the stigmatization of female bodies.

“The discriminatory enforcement of dress codes against female students like Lizzy sends the message that girls’ propensity to ‘distract’ is more important than their right to learn,” said Emma Roth, a legal fellow with the ACLU Women’s Rights Project. “As part of the national reckoning over sexual harassment, schools have an obligation to teach students that everyone is entitled to respect, regardless of how they look or what they wear. Instead, by pulling Lizzy out of class and subjecting her to degrading treatment, Braden River administrators impeded her right to learn on equal footing with her male peers.”

Nancy Abudu, legal director of the ACLU of Florida, said, “A school’s dress code cannot make generalizations about what types of clothing or appearance are appropriate for a boy or a girl to wear to school. Unfortunately, we often see gender stereotypes and discrimination play a prolific role in the enforcement of school dress codes across the country — and Florida is not an outlier. Lizzy’s case highlights how female students bear the brunt of disparate treatment and are often humiliated in the process. With this letter, we hope to work with Manatee County’s school district to address this systemic disparity and prevent similar incidents from occurring to any other student in the future.”

In its letter, the ACLU and ACLU of Florida recommended that the school district amend its student dress code to remove vague and sex stereotype-based requirements and to release written guidance prohibiting district officials from enforcing the dress code in a discriminatory manner. Additionally, the signatories advise against the district instituting a requirement in the dress code requiring female students to wear bras — as administrators suggested they intend to do — as it would raise further sex discrimination concerns and potentially constitute a further unconstitutional act.

Stay Informed