An 11-year-old and her mother have challenged a school's dress code after the tween was punished for not wearing a dress.
Rachel Manfredini plays on her Cottonwood, Calif., school’s basketball team. The 5-foot-7-inch fifth grader is an asset to the West Cottonwood Junior High School team, but because of her height, the middle schooler shies away from wearing shorts and dresses.
“If she went to school in a dress, she would spend the entire school day feeling self-conscious and uncomfortable,” Kimberly Schaal explains to Yahoo Lifestyle of her daughter, who still gets teased for her height. “It would distract from her learning. It would bring down her self-esteem.”
However, at Manfredini’s school, there is a 40-year tradition that requires students to dress formally on home games — meaning dresses or skirts.
“I said, ‘Well, you can talk to your coach and I’m sure you can wear a nice outfit that’s not a dress,'” Schaal said.
Manfredini approached her coach about wearing pants, but Schaal said her daughter was warned that if she did not wear a dress, she would have to sit out the game.
On Tuesday, the day of the game, Manfredini chose to dress normally and went to her principal with a note from her mother that asked for the rule to be changed.
“While I understand the notion of it being a symbol of unity for the team, I do not believe that unity can be attained by ostracizing players who do not feel comfortable wearing dresses or skirts,” Schaal wrote.
Schaal said he was contacted that morning by the school’s athletic director who said the rule would remain the same and instructed her to contact the superintendent if she had further issue.
Meanwhile, Manfredini said she was called into a team meeting during lunch by her basketball coaches where they brought up the dress code.
“All three of them told the entire girls’ team that being on the team is a privilege, and that if you’re not willing to wear a skirt or a dress to school, then you might as well quit the team,” Schaal recalls. “Rachel was in tears. She was the only student not in a dress, and they were targeting my child because she was standing her ground.”
Manfredini still attended the game and cheered on her team from the sidelines. Schaal posted a video on Facebook, which has received nearly 300 views at publication time, showing her daughter sitting on the bench.
“This is what sadness looks like when you’re 11 years old and are being punished for not wearing a dress. My heart is breaking. School board meeting tonight. I will be there,” she wrote.
Schaal attended the school board meeting, where her story was picked up by KRCR.
After her story was aired on the ABC affiliate broadcast, Schaal met with the school superintendent Doug Geren who has since changed the dress code.
“We’ve never had an issue with this before,” Geren tells Yahoo. ” It was brought to our attention that the girl didn’t feel comfortable wearing a dress, so we looked at that and said, ‘Well, it’s been a tradition here, but maybe in today’s time it’s a little too restrictive.’ So, we still ask that they wear formal attire but it doesn’t have to be a dress, it can be a nice pair of slacks or something like that.”
Schaal is pleased with the outcome and says her daughter, who aspires to be in the WNBA, is happy to get back in the game.
“There is nothing she loves more than basketball,” Schaal says to Yahoo Lifestyle. “For her to sit out a game to stand up for what she believes is right is huge, because all she wants is to be out on that court.”
Geren further told Fox News on March 24 that the tradition of student athletes wearing formal attire on game day is simply tradition, not mandated by any dress code. He added that Schaal was told that there were "other options avaliable" to her daughter and that she did not have to wear a dress.
Further, Geren said that the coach had confirmed this with the team two weeks prior to the event.