Comments made about a female pupil's attire last week by a principal has caused something of a public uproar for Trinity House Little Falls High School in Roodepoort, Johannesburg.
The incident took place on February 14, the school's "civvies" day, where pupils are allowed to forego their usual school uniform in favour of their own clothes. Caitlin Morgan-Smith, 17, was pulled out of assembly by a teacher and was told that her attire was "unacceptable", and was later told by the principal that it was "disgusting" and "offensive".
The teen, who was wearing jeans paired with a top that exposed her shoulders and a fraction of her midriff, was taken to the school's sick room where she was given an alternative shirt and told she could not go back to class unless she put it on. She declined and phoned her mother, Gail Morgan-Smith, who arrived at the school a short while later. The two met with the principal, Lynne Davis, and it was agreed that Morgan-Smith would wear the oversized T-shirt provided and return to class.
But the exchange of words that took place in this meeting was where the concern arose.
According to the mother, Davis aggressively addressed her in front of her daughter, saying the way girls "display themselves is disgusting", and she found the pupil's outfit "totally offensive". Morgan-Smith said the principal said pupils should "understand that there are male teachers, male gardeners and there are male students".
Morgan-Smith said her response to the principal was: "If your argument is that men cannot control themselves because they see a little bit of skin, then this is a serious concern".
The school's general manager Andries van Renssen confirmed with the Huffington Post South Africa that this exchange of words had taken place.
"We regret that the principal shared her own personal opinions on the matter. She made these remarks in the heat of the moment and there were some things that should not have been said," he said.
A school statement published on Facebook last week reads: "Trinity House condemns any form of sexual violence, body shaming and victimisation... At no time did the principal say that victims of sexual assault are to blame for sexual assault. She also neither condoned nor perpetuated body shaming."
The incident gained public attention after the mother took to Facebook to express her outrage over the incident. Her post has been shared more than 800 times and has more than 1,000 likes.
One social media user who asked not to be named said they scrolled through the school's Facebook page and commented on several of their pictures in which she noticed an inconsistency on the school's dress codes. One picture they brought to HuffPost SA's attention depicted a half-dressed male pupil at a swimming event captioned with congratulatory praise for his sporting achievement. The school deleted the post, and according to the user, their comments on all of the other pictures they commented on were also deleted.
Van Renssen said that the picture in question was removed following a complaint from a parent who was unhappy about children being tagged in photos on social media. He said he wasn't aware that the comments on other pictures were deleted.
The school said it would make contact with the Morgan-Smith's mother to try to reach an amicable resolution.