A mom whose daughter got flagged for a possible dress code violation says rules aren't being applied evenly.

Accounts about what exactly happened in the Two Rivers High School cafeteria Friday morning are hard to piece together, but no one denies that 16-year-old Bailey Ellis got walked to the principal’s office around 8 a.m. for an official judgement on her cleavage. Was it visible? Was it not?

What happened for the rest of the day is also confusing and unclear, as most stories about high school dramas are. Superintendent Harry Alvis said the incident got overblown, that a question about whether an outfit met dress code requirements was raised and then quickly resolved in the student’s favor.

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But there’s no doubt that Bailey Ellis was left upset and humiliated, and that her mom raised some fair points about whether dress codes and body shaming might sometimes be one and the same. Is it really a young girl’s job to dress in a way that dissuades male attention by camouflaging her figure? Would anyone have noticed the dress at all if Bailey Ellis wasn’t so busty?

Those issues raised by Bailey Ellis’s very brief non-violation of the Two Rivers School District dress code are getting plenty of consideration after a Facebook post about the whole ordeal quickly got shared 1.5 thousand times (and counting).

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“Most of the time she dresses like a tomboy: boots, belt buckle. She’s that kind of girl,” Shea Ellis said of her daughter. But this was a more special than usual Friday, when the 11th graders would get to order their class rings, and Bailey Ellis decided to wear a dress.

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According to her mom, Bailey called her family from her cell phone crying on her way from the cafeteria to the front office. Administrators there apparently determined no dress code violations had been committed, but that was far from the end of the ordeal. Shea Ellis arrived shortly thereafter and checked her daughter out of school for a bit for her to calm down.

The photo Shea Ellis posted of her teary eyed daughter leaving school shows a fairly modest polka dotted dress, fitted on the top, with a not-too-low scoop neck and a hemline just a smidge above the knee. Bailey wore a denim jacket over it, and tennis shoes. The Facebook post says, “My child was dress coded this morning and sent home…please tell me why? Because she is big chested. This is body shaming!
THIS IS THE REASON WHY LITTLE GIRLS WANNA CHANGE THEMSELVES SO BADLY! This is two rivers school district ARKANSAS!”

Shea Ellis said that she and her daughter left school only briefly, and during that time she inspected her daughter’s dress herself, giving it a tug test to make sure it didn’t slip down into inappropriate territory.

“There’s no way she could have boobs popping out of the top,” she said.

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So she checked her daughter back into school to finish the day.

Superintendent Alvis confirmed that Bailey Ellis finished out the school day in the same clothes, without incident. “The initial question was maybe the way it was being worn. Was it too low? She pulled it up and there was no longer an issue,” he said.

The Two Rivers School District handbook makes exceptions to dress code requirements for athletics and other school events. Some question whether that’s fair.

Alvis acknowledged that being singled out for a possible dress code violation could be embarrassing, but said it was done discretely, before the school day even began. We don’t want to shame the kid, we don’t want to embarrass the kid,” he said. “But we do want to enforce the rules.”

But Bailey Ellis’s mom said it’s the rules being enforced that are a big part of the problem. She said she suspects no one would have tagged her daughter for a dress code infraction if she wasn’t so curvy. “She’s a school child who’s big-breasted. She can’t help it. Why would you make a child feel bad about herself?”

The school dress code does offer exceptions that seem tailored to athletes and cheerleaders. According to the district’s 2020-2021 student handbook (the only one on their website), rules don’t apply to “a costume or uniform worn by a student while participating in a school-sponsored activity or event.”

Bailey has already talked about getting breast reduction surgery, and her mom said what happened at school Friday will make her more self-conscious. Shea Ellis said she worries about what will happen after her tomboy daughter who ropes calves for fun dipped over toward her feminine side with such disastrous results.

“I have no problem with my kids being dress coded if they are inappropriate,” Shea Ellis said. “But if they’re gonna get dress coded for having big breasts? I’m not okay with it.”