Ridiculous! A high school told a girl that her poncho made out of word puzzles and Sudokus was “too distracting” for male students

Illustration by Rachelle Tjahyana
Illustration by Rachelle Tjahyana
Illustration by Rachelle Tjahyana

A local teenager is fighting back after her school suspended her for wearing clothes made entirely out of crosswords, Sudokus, and other puzzles meant to stimulate a person’s cognitive thinking.

Beth Francis, a grade 11 student at Mount Pleasant Secondary School, was sent home early last Monday after her homeroom teacher deemed that Francis’ poncho was distracting the male students in her class. Francis says that the school’s administration staff, including the principal, became involved with the situation and gave Francis a week-long suspension when she tried to defend the article of clothing.

“I feel like I’m being unfairly targeted by the school,” Francis said in an interview with The Peak. “I mean, guys in my class wear shirts with Sudokus on them all of the time. I don’t see why my case is any different.”

Immediately following the notice of suspension, Francis penned an essay about her experience and posted it online to the social media website Facebook, calling the school’s punishment an overreaction and ultimately sexist. Francis is asking women who have faced similar discrimination to stand up to what she calls unreasonable expectations being forced onto members of her sex.

“Just because a female student wears an article of clothing with crosswords and little brain teasers on it isn’t an invitation for her male counterparts to pay attention to her,” Francis’ essay reads. “The school is blaming me for something I have no control over.”

With prom season approaching for high schools, cases similar to Francis’ have been popping up all over online and in the media. In Calgary, Alberta, a female student was denied entrance to her graduation ceremony because of a brain teaser she had sewn onto her graduation cap. A senior in Brandon, Manitoba was also barred from her prom dance because the strapless dress she was wearing had several word searches embroidered onto it. Both girls echo Francis’ struggle, saying they’ve worn similar clothing before and received nothing but compliments from fellow classmates.

“There’s absolutely no excuse for this kind of treatment,” Francis’ mother told The Peak, saying she has already contacted the school board and is demanding an apology, as well as an immediate lift on her daughter’s suspension. “Teenage boys are going to be distracted regardless of what Beth wears, whether it’s by a crossword puzzle or a one of those problems where you have all of the letters in a word but they’re jumbled up together. Quit shaming the students for something they’re not doing on purpose.”

However, the school has thus far stood by the principal’s decision to suspend Francis, citing the need to provide a productive and stimulating learning environment for students, free of unnecessary distractions.

“A teacher’s responsibility is to educate,” read an official statement from Mount Pleasant Secondary. “While we respect out students’ wishes to express themselves as individuals, both physically and mentally, the power is ultimately in the teacher’s hands to overrule that privilege if they think the learning environment is at risk, as was the case with Ms. Francis’ poncho.”