Student Jailed 6 Days In Fight Over Dress Code Protest T-Shirt

HOPKINSVILLE, KY — A 15-year-old high school student who scuffled with a school resource officer as she protested an earlier suspension for a dress code violation served six days in Kentucky juvenile detention center alongside teenage girls accused of murder, stabbing and violent crimes, according to reports.

Hopkinsville High School isn’t the first school to clamp down on off-the-shoulder fashions that are everywhere in retail stores and online catalogs targeting teens — but that many educators and school boards deem too revealing for the classrooms. Dress codes prohibiting the so-called “cold shoulder” dresses and blouses have been met with a flurry of criticism that they bow to societal norms that objectify women based on what they wear and that they lack respect for the sovereignty of women to decide for themselves how to dress.

Theresa Rucks, the teen’s mother, doesn’t think the Christian County school district adequately publicized the dress code changes, which also ban see-through white clothing, before the start of classes. So when her 15-year-old daughter, Isabella Messer, was suspended, she helped her make a shirt to wear in protest. The oversized T-shirt has short sleeves and a crew neck and isn’t in the least revealing.

“Do my shoulders turn you on?” the message on the front read. On the back, it stated, “If so, return to the 1920s.”

Rucks told the Lexington Herald-Leader her daughter’s protest shirt shouldn’t have been seen as objectionable. Patch does not typically release the names of juveniles charged with crimes, but in this case, the defendant’s family have used her name.

“She shouldn’t have been in any kind of trouble,” Rucks said. “Now it turned out to be where she’s in McCracken (Juvenile Detention Center) because the assistant principal did not like what her shirt had read.”

Melinda Rucks wrote on Facebook that her niece’s suspension for wearing a cold-shoulder garment “is a problem in itself, but this school made things even worse” by calling out the shirt she wore “as a form of peaceful protest.”

“A female teacher pulled [the student] aside and told her that she felt threatened by the shirt, when Bella explained said it was in her rights to wear it as it is adhering to the dress code,” the teen’s aunt wrote. “Not only did the teacher put her hands on her, but she felt the need to call in the police. Instead of calling my sister in law to handle the situation how it should have been, the officer who responded [manhandled] my niece and left visible markings on her neck and arms.”

Police said Messer was uncooperative with the principal, then got into a scuffle as the school resource officer and pulled away during several attempts to handcuff her. As the officer reached for a cellphone the teen was holding behind her back — cellphones aren’t allowed during in-school suspensions — she allegedly kicked him in the shin.

Messer holds a Red Belt in Taekwondo — one of the highest levels of achievement in the Korean martial art — and the kick she delivered to the school resource officer was instinctual, her mother told the Herald-Leader.

The teen’s mother told Yahoo Lifestyle she was initially told by the assistant principal, Nathan Howton, that the teacher who alerted the school resource officer thought the statement on the shirt was a form of harassment. Later, new high school Principal John Gunn and a school board official told her the shirt conveyed sexual content.

In a statement, the Christian County Board of Education said its “students along with their parents and guardians are aware of dress code rules and the code’s enforcement.”

Messer was charged with disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and third-degree assault of a law enforcement officer, police said. A judge sentenced her to McCracken Regional Juvenile Detention Center, where she remained until Aug. 28 — her 15th birthday — when she was released on house arrest to her mother. During house arrest, she can’t go outside, the Yahoo Lifestyles report said.

She, who is next due in court on Sept. 25, doesn’t want to return to Hopkinsville High School, and her mother enrolled her in an alternative school.

“I’m not under any circumstances sending her back to that school,” Rucks told Yahoo.

She told the Herald-Leader that her daughter, an ROTC student, has never been in trouble.

“I feel like the school has gone overboard,” Rucks told the newspaper. “She’s such a good kid.”

Jeannie Lorraine, Messer’s grandmother, also decried the treatment of her granddaughter.

Photo via Shutterstock

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