Student forced to cover scars

A group of students at Penticton Secondary School are fighting against a ruling ordering a Grade 9 student to wear long sleeves at all times to cover scars.

The student, who has self-harm scars on her forearm, was given a letter from the school which included a requirement to "ensure that long-sleeved shirts are worn while at school," which the letter said was to avoid creating an unwelcome environment to other students.

The requirement was part of a letter of assurance written on Jan. 11 for "re-entry into Penticton Secondary School," which was issued "in light of (student's) behaviour and academic achievement."

She said she would've been expelled if she didn't sign the letter. She spoke out about it to friends on Friday — nearly a month later — who took exception to the long-sleeves requirement.

A group of her friends, who are Grade 10 students at the school, started a dress code petition shortly after for her, which calls to "support our rights as students to not feel ashamed for having scars."

The students said more than 250 people signed the petition by mid-day Saturday, noting the signees included students, parents and community members. They plan to bring the petition to the Okanagan Skaha School District.

"We really want to reiterate we don't wish for anything bad to happen to our school and our principals. We think they're wonderful people, we just think they have a bit of misguided judgement," Brooke Hauschild said, one of the petition organizers.

The students said councillors advised against them creating the petition and that their principals threw out some of their signature pages.

Another organizer of the petition, Oliver Jansen, said the students are hoping to invoke change in the conversation about self-harm, and said it's harmful if students are forced to feel like they need to hide their situation.

"We do understand what (the school) is trying to do, they're trying to make it so other students don't see that (self-harm scars) and think it's something they should do too. But they're going about it the completely wrong way," Jansen said.

The student said she has abided by the letter and worn long sleeves every day at school since signing it, adding she's glad she spoke out to friends about her concerns.

"I went from (Friday) being the worst day of my life to being as happy as I could be, to see all my friends come together and doing all this for me. I never expected it, that's why I hid this for so long."

School District 67 Superintendent Wendy Hyer declined to comment on the situation, citing privacy concerns. She said parents/guardians unhappy with a principal's decision can appeal it through the district's bylaws.

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