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17 Dec

Francis Greenway parents ‘furious’ at principal ‘victim blaming’ of girls

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ANGRY: Francis Greenway students, from left, Nicola Walk, Melissa Duffield, Ashlie Duffield, Jemma Cheetham, Ashley Robson and Sufiya Walk. Picture MARINA NEIL FEMALE students at a Hunter high school have been told the length of their shorts is making male staff and students “uncomfortable” and puts staffin “potentially awkward situations”.
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Parents have called for a change of leadership at Beresfield’sFrancis Greenway High, amid complaints about how principal Jo Edwards addressed an assembly ofyear seven to 11 girls on Tuesday about the school uniform.

TheNewcastle Heraldspoke to several students who said Ms Edwards told the girls the length of their shorts was making male staff and students feel uncomfortable, could lead to the girls being judged as promiscuous and may put them at risk of sexual assault.

Mother Sharon Robson said parents were “furious”.

“It’s victim blaming,” Ms Robson said.

“We don’t have a problem with the school wanting to enforce the uniform policy.

“But the whole way they’ve gone about it was wrong –making these children feel like every male is looking at them like they want to do something to them. It sexualises them.

“This is not appropriate for impressionable young teenagers.

“Some students already have low self esteem to start with and this is going to make it a hell of a lot worse.

“Short shorts are not a good look for the school and while some are too short, the majority wear the right length.”

Concerned: Ashley Robson with her mother Sharon, who said the principal “needs to be moved away from the school”. Picture: Marina Neil

Ms Edwards sent20 girls home with a letter asking them to wear more “appropriate” shorts.

She emailedtheir parents on Wednesday saying it was “not my intention to reflect on the character of students addressed earlier, and I apologise if my choice of words caused offence”.

She sent another email on Thursday, saying“my message may have led to some misrepresentation”.

A Department of Education spokesperson said the principal “reiterated the importance of students wearing the correct uniform according to the policy endorsed by the school community”.

“The consistent wearing of the approved uniform develops students’ sense of belonging and pride in the school and projects a positive image in the community.

“The uniform also supports student wellbeing, for practical reasons and in identifying students.”

The Herald understands some male teachers have told students they didnot feel uncomfortable about the girls’ shorts and rejected the suggestion they asked the principal to intervene.

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Mother Narelle Giles said her son Cain and his friends were mortified.

“They feel just as bad, thinking ‘Do these girls think we’re going to do something to them?’” Ms Giles said.

The students said they wanted the principal to apologise to all students and staff.

Ms Robson’s daughter Ashley received one of the notes and said she felt “targeted” and “worthless”.

She didn’t go to school on Wednesday or Thursday.

“It’s unfair –I’d never really thought about my shorts before, but this makes me feel self conscious,” she said.

“We just want to feel comfortable in the clothes we wear.”

Sufiya Walk said she “felt awful that someone could be saying something like that without knowing our personalities or what we’re like” and didn’t like hearing “derogative”terms.

Nicola Walk said “girls should not be judged by what we wear”.

“When someone of your own gender does that –that’s what makes us feel more horrible,” she said.

“We feel anger, frustration –girls are worried what our male teachers and students are thinking.

“We should be feeling safe in school, not threatened. We’ve been treated like objects, not people.”

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Ashlie Duffield said she felt “ashamed”, and that “we should be able to express ourselves”, while her younger sister Melissa Duffield said she felt “terrible”.

“Everything we’ve been trying to instill in our girls about self esteem has been taken away in one day,” Ms Giles said.

“The whole lot of them are miserable. We need a change of leadership, because this can’t be fixed.”

Mother Sue Connors said the principal wouldhave to “earn back the respect of our girls”.

Mother VickyFoster said “they’re supposed to be taught to have respect for themselves and each other.

“I don’t ever want to see my daughter come out of school again feeling worthless and dirty”.

The letter said the wearing of “very short” shorts was “causing concern”.

“The expectation is that shorts reach mid-thigh or lower,” the letter said.

“The wearing of shorts which are not long enough places our staff in potentially awkward situations and could be considered a child protection issue.”

It said non compliant students could face consequences including exclusion from extracurricular activities anddetentions.

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