A Kings County high school student says she was suspended for bringing attention to someone wearing an offensive shirt to her school, and that she’s angry there were no repercussions for the student wearing the shirt.
Kenzie Thornhill, 17, said she was also threatened with not being able to graduate from West Kings District High School if she continued to make waves over the issue.
It all started April 1, when a student sat in front of her in a class wearing a shirt that had had several lyrics screenprinted on the back that followed the style of the Christmas song Deck the Halls. The lines included “deck the halls with mounds of babies” and “’tis the season to be rapey.”
She particularly took issue with the rape line, and took a picture that she showed to a teacher and hall monitor. She was told the issue would be dealt with.
Kenzie knows people who have been victims of sexual assault, so the line was particularly troublesome for her. She ended up posting the photo online.
She also posted the picture on social media.
When she arrived at school after the Easter long weekend, she was called to the office and told by a vice-principal that the Annapolis Valley Regional Centre for Education ordered the school to suspend her for five days for taking a picture of another student and posting it in violation of school rules, even though the photo only shows the shirt and not the student.
The board also alleged that she ruined the school’s reputation because the photo she took and posted had a SnapChat filter that showed the school’s name.
She said the student was not suspended for violating the school dress code, and was just told not to wear the shirt to school again.
“That’s why this is a big thing,” she said. “He did not get any punishment, but yet I received punishment when I tried to bring it to their attention.”
She said it’s that fact that makes her angry more so than her suspension. She said other students have been suspended for wearing T-shirts showing beer logos or marijuana.
Then, she said, someone from the Annapolis Valley Centre for Education contacted her and said if she didn’t stop sharing what had happened on social media, that she may not be allowed to graduate. There was also a suggestion that she could be charged with cyber-bullying, even though she didn’t name or show the student.
“He basically tried to scare me into keeping quiet about the situation.”
That conversation came after she contacted the board herself trying to have the suspension revoked.
“That was the last I heard from him.”
The whole situation led to a walkout at the school during the last class of the day Thursday as students looked for a way to support Kenzie. Several female students wore spaghetti straps, skirts above the knees or exposed bras to contravene the rules on appropriate clothing that they say weren’t enforced with the shirt.
Students held signs that said “rape is not a joke” and “anything other than yes is no” as they lined the road in front of the school in Auburn.
Because she was suspended, Kenzie couldn’t join her schoolmates on the school grounds, but took part across the street from the school.
She said that support was amazing as are the messages she is receiving on social media.
But, she said, “I don’t want the attention, I want the attention on the school for not suspending this kid.”
She said she doesn’t want the student to be harassed or bothered by people.
Grade 9 student Maddy Schofield also took part in the walkout to support Kenzie. She said the shirt was offensive because it seemed to condone rape.
She said Kenzie didn’t identify the student with the shirt.
“There would only be a reason to suspend her if his face was showing, but it wasn’t.”
Cheryl Bruce went to the walkout with Maddy to support her, and said the shirt was “disgusting. He was putting something out there that wasn’t appropriate.”
She said she felt proud to see them standing up against what they saw happening.
Parent Dane Huntley said “it’s pretty awful” that the student who wore the shirt had no repercussions but Kenzie paid a price for bringing attention to it.
“Females have a dress code at the school: they’re not allowed to wear spaghetti straps, they’re not allowed to wear skirts above their knees. We all know they’re told they can’t dress like that because it will provoke the boys, but we can’t start teaching boys that just because a girl dresses like that doesn’t mean she wants to get raped?” he said. “That’s the underlying issues I think a lot of students are taking with them today.”
He said he doesn’t stand up for many things, “but this is getting out of hand. It needs to change,” Huntley said. “This could be a pivotal stepping stone to change. It not only affects the girls, it affects the boys because it’s warping their minds, and it’s terrible, and we need to fix this.”
Kenzie said the school principal, who was off work when the situation unfolded, emailed her after school was over Thursday asking her come to the school Friday morning to have a talk. She said she’s not sure what will be discussed.
In an emailed statement, Annapolis Valley Regional Centre for Education’s Kristen Loyst said, “We have seen the image. It is unacceptable and the school administration and AVRCE staff are addressing this issue.”
She said the centre won’t go into details because of privacy concerns, but “any language that promotes sexual violence is not acceptable. The school administration is reaching out to the student who made the report and will work with them to ensure they feel heard and supported.”
She also said RCMP were at the school to make sure students were safe while protesting along the busy highway.
Lloyst said she was unaware of the allegation that it was the board and not the school that pushed for the suspension, or that Kenzie was threatened with not being able to graduate, and couldn’t provide an immediate response.