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School denies telling female pupils to ‘avoid tight leggings’

An online anti-sexism petition accusing Presentation College Carlow has been signed by more than 9,000 people.

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(Ben Birchall/PA)

(Ben Birchall/PA)

(Ben Birchall/PA)

The principal of a secondary school accused of telling female pupils not to wear tight clothing has denied any “inappropriate, wrong or uncomfortable” remarks were made about their clothing.

An online anti-sexism petition was set up amid claims that pupils at Presentation College Carlow were told by teachers not to wear leggings or tight trousers or skirts because it was distracting for staff, and has been signed by more than 9,000 people.

Posted anonymously, the petition alleged students were told to avoid such items of clothing as “they cannot show off the female anatomy as it is distracting to the female and male staff of the school”.

Several parents have reportedly complained about the message apparently conveyed in a series of assemblies last Friday, but the school has insisted its uniform policy has not changed in recent years.

We're bemused in one sense, we're annoyed in another sense, in terms of some of the comments that have been up on social media which are scandalous and damaging to staff tooRay Murray

Ray Murray, principal of Presentation College Carlow said the petition was based on “unsubstantiated facts”.

He told RTE’s Morning Ireland programme that assemblies were held on Friday to remind female students of the uniform policy because staff had noted in the past couple of months that “when the students were coming in, particularly the girls, the uniform regulations weren’t being followed”.

Mr Murray acknowledged that only the girls were called to the assemblies, but said that was because “it was becoming a fashion show” among female pupils.

“Instead of tracksuit bottoms it was a variety of garments being worn, more so leggings,” he said. “It wasn’t an issue with the boys. It was just a discussion with the girls.”

He added that the school’s uniform policy had “not changed at all”.

“The only change was that because of Covid-19 regulations (when) students have a PE class they are coming to school in their PE gear rather than changing in and out of it as they would have done normally,” he said.

The students have made it clear... the key words they have used to describe how they feel are degraded, paranoid, violated, disgusted and unsafeSandy Haughney

Discussing the controversy, he said: “We’re bemused in one sense, we’re annoyed in another sense, in terms of some of the comments that have been up on social media which are scandalous and damaging to staff too.

“What was a normal enough assembly in terms of reminding them of the regulations has escalated into this.”

Asked whether any remark was made about teachers being uncomfortable with the sight of girls in tight clothes, he said the teachers had assured him nothing had been said.

“I know that there was nothing inappropriate, wrong or uncomfortable said to them,” he said.

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“I do accept that some students were upset after some of the assemblies.”

He said he met about 15 students on Monday and asked them what they were upset about, and “most of them” highlighted what they had heard was said in another assembly.

“Over the weekend this broke up into what it is on social media and a petition was set up based on unsubstantiated facts,” he added.

Sandy Haughney, whose daughter is a student at the school, said the girls were told that tight black tracksuit bottoms could not be worn “because it was showing off their hips and thighs” and they were “too tight and revealing”.

Ms Haughney told Newstalk Breakfast: “Look, the students have made it clear themselves – the key words they have used to describe how they feel are degraded, paranoid, violated, disgusted and unsafe.

“The children in this school have made it quite clear that they feel unsafe. The parents and the children need to be reassured that they are safe in school.”

She also said the students had been told if they continued to talk about the matter they would receive slips, which means they could get detention.

Ms Haughney added she would “hate to think” that if something happened to her daughter “she would think it is her fault because of the way she dresses”.

Mary O’Driscoll, chairwoman of the parents’ council at Presentation College, told the PA news agency on Tuesday that the school held an assembly to reiterate the uniform policy to students.

She said she has a 17-year-old and a 15-year-old at the school and her younger child had “no issues with what was said at the assembly”.

Mrs O’Driscoll said the school asks for tracksuit bottoms to be plain with no logos, but “some students have taken it upon themselves to wear in leggings which are not part of the PE uniform”.

Asked whether students were told leggings were distracting for staff, Mrs O’Driscoll said: “I have spoken to a few people that were in those assemblies and they have told me that they weren’t told that.”

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