Israeli Teens Told to Cover Up for High School Yearbook

The secular school asked female students not to show their knees, shoulders, or chests in yearbook photos; MK Ilan Gilon calls the move 'problematic.'

12th graders from Ben Zvi High School in Kiryat Ono wear outfits that the school deemed unacceptable for the yearbook.
Courtesy

Female 12th-grade students at the Ben Zvi High School in Kiryat Ono who were having pictures taken for their yearbook last week were asked by the school staff to lower their skirts to cover their knees — or to stand behind a bench to hide their legs. The reason given was “modesty,” because of dress that is not “respectful” of the school.

The request was an “anti-educational” message that says, “my knees somehow harm my respect for the school,” one student explained. The girls’ attempts to convince the staff that their dress was not revealing were rejected offhand.

Last year, after a student was photographed for the yearbook wearing a sleeveless T-shirt, the nonreligious school edited her picture using Photoshop software and added sleeves.

Before this year’s yearbook photos were taken last Thursday, female students were told not to wear sleeveless shirts, low-cut blouses or “too short” dresses and skirts. Even though a number of the girls thought they had met these requirements, it seems the staff was not satisfied.

“They yelled at us that our dresses were above the knee, and that we couldn’t have our pictures taken like that,” said one of the students. Others spoke about comments, some of which were humiliating, such as “how do you think you can dress like that?” or “school is not a place for licentiousness.” A few said they felt they were talking about “whorish dress.”

“A number of students started crying because of the comments and humiliation,” said one. “When we tried to fight, they told us that these are the rules and there was nothing to be done.”

The following day, a few teachers spoke about the incident and blamed the girls for “violating the rules” of the school, she added.

The question of discrimination in school dress codes has been an issue of passionate discussion over the past year among female students all over the country, including the ban on girls coming with very short shorts on hot summer days — a rule they say is not enforced in the case of boys.

The Education Ministry said the school “has a mandate to set norms for dress, in a spirit appropriate to the school’s charter, which is set in cooperation with the students, teachers and parents ... The claims were passed on to the [ministry] inspector for the school.”

“I don’t know what excuse the school staff dares to use to demand from its female students to cover their legs,” wrote MK Ilan Gilon (Meretz) to Education Minister Naftali Bennett over the weekend. Gilon is a member of the Knesset Committee on the Status of Women.

“The excessive attention given to the length of the students’ dresses is problematic,” wrote Gilon. “Since when has the [nonreligious] state schools system started demanding a modesty regime from its students? What are the criteria for such dress and what is the educational message that the school’s staff is trying to pass on?”