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Montreal-area high school students protest 'sexist' dress code

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Approximately 50 Montreal-area students — the vast majority of them female — were suspended Wednesday after their school deemed the shorts they were wearing were too short.

On Thursday, several students staged a walk-out to protest what they believe is a "sexist" dress code that unfairly targets girls.

"She [a staff member] said that my knees were attractive to the boys. I didn't understand why," said Isabelle Drouin, a student at Curé-Antoine-Labelle High School in Laval, Que., on Thursday. "She just said that word for word, 'Your knees are attractive to the boys; you have to go home.'"

A spokesperson for the school service centre confirmed the suspensions to CTV News.

Several students say that as temperatures began rising outside, they started receiving warnings about the length of their shorts.

"It's a bit humiliating, I'd say, to be discriminated by shorts," said Talie Cloutier, a Grade 11 student.

"She said, 'Your shorts give space for imagination.' I was, like, what adult comments that on a child's body?" said another student.

Students at Curé-Antoine-Labelle High School in Laval protesting what they call a "sexist" dress code. (Kelly Greig/CTV News)

Cloutier insists the measures almost exclusively affect female students.

"The shorts we wear as students cover our bodies in a respectable way and don't let anything inappropriate show," she wrote in a letter to Noovo Info.

The student said that the school's ventilation system is lacklustre and claims there is no air conditioning.

"Temperatures are therefore higher inside the classrooms than outside," she said. "These temperatures don't create an environment conducive to education."

"[It's] hard to concentrate when you're trying to get your body to cool down," said Grade 11 student Romy Moise Ethier.

School issues notice to parents

According to the school's dress code, shorts must be around, or just above, the knee.

In an email sent to parents, the school explained, "The dress code was developed after consultation with the school community and the rules ensure a harmonious atmosphere at the school."

It added that even some school sports team shorts might be in violation if they are worn for everyday use. 

The school also told parents that "if a student is found to be non-compliant, they will have to change their clothes, if they have any with them, or they will be sent home to change."

Many students say this is the first time they've actually seen this policy enforced. Cloutier organized the protest and said she's worn the same pair of shorts for years, especially on hot days.

"It's burning inside the class. the ventilation inside the school is bad because it's an old school," she said.

'Acknowledge and apologize to all the women'

Students spoke to CTV News about being objectified and sexualized when taken out of class.

"I would just like them to acknowledge and to apologize to all the women that they took out of class yesterday," said Grade 11 student Veronica Lamas. "Then, they would look at the girls like it's as if they were sexualizing us, objectifying us being like, 'Yeah, well, your shorts are a bit shorter, so come with me."

Drouin said the boys at school were not treated the same.

"Nothing to the boys," she said. "The boys were bringing their shorts like this, and it was like, 'do you have to send us home too because our shorts are short?' and the teacher was like, 'No. Just for the girls."

The Centre de services scolaire de Laval says any comments towards students will be reviewed.

"If there were inappropriate comments, the school will remind the staff that that should not be happening," Yves Michel Volcy, the school service centre's director general, told CTV News.

Students are calling for a change to the dress code and an apology for what they say was a humiliating day at school.

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