A North Carolina high school principal has sparked anger on social media and in her community after suspending an honor roll student for the rest of her senior year and barring her from graduation ceremonies for violating the school’s dress code.
Michelle Cline, the principal at Hickory Ridge High School in Harrisburg, suspended the teen, Summer, after an incident last week, the girl and her mother told WCNC-TV.
Summer, who has a 4.4 GPA and is headed to a major university on a full scholarship, is now worried her future might be in jeopardy, after the disciplinary action.
She told the news station she was wearing a green shirt that “rests just off the tops of her shoulders and exposes her collarbone,” according to WCNC. Cline told Summer she was violating the school’s dress code and eventually sent her home after a back and forth between the administrator and the student.
After Summer took her story to the local news station, many on social media took her side, leading to backlash against Cline. The school district has declined to comment about the issue, but did provide a copy of the dress code, which “specifically, prohibits students from wearing off-the-shoulder shirts,” to WCNC.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Cline Called for the School Resource Officer, Who Summer Says Had His Hand on His Gun, While the Principal Threatened to Have Her Arrested
Summer told WCNC-TV the incident leading to her suspension occurred on May 17. She was in the cafeteria eating lunch when she was approached by the principal, Michelle Cline, who asked her if she had a jacket.
According to the suspension notice Summer’s family gave to the news station, Summer responded to the principal, “I think my shirt is fine.” Cline then told her that the teen’s lower back was “completely exposed,” and she was not in compliance with the dress code, and Summer again said, “My shirt is fine.”
Summer told the news station she didn’t have a jacket, but borrowed one from a friend. But she said the principal told her she would still need to go to the office to change her clothes.
“I pulled it up, put the jacket over it, zipped up the jacket,” Summer told the news station. “I completely understand why a dress code is put into place but I feel like after I put on that jacket it should have been subdued.”
According to Summer, she then went to the auditorium after the lunch period ended, and the principal followed her and kicked everyone else out of the room. She also brought the school resource officer.
“[The SRO] was within five feet of me, he had his hand on his gun. [The principal] said ‘I’m gonna give you an ultimatum. We have tried to call your mother. You either come with me to the control room to change your shirt or we will arrest you,” Summer told the news station.
Cline told the principal to arrest Summer, but her mother then called and the arrest did not happen. Summer was instead suspended for 10 days and barred from participating in any school activities, including graduation. She told the news station Cline is still considering expelling her. Summer’s mother is planning to appeal the suspension and any other disciplinary actions, according to the news station.
2. Summer Says She Was Suspended for ‘Insubordination’ & Claims She Had Many Issues With Cline During Her 4 Years at the School
Summer told WCNC-TV that the dress code incident and suspension was the latest in a series of issues between her and Cline over the four years she has been at the high school.
According to Summer, the tension reached a point where her mother told authorities to contact her before taking any disciplinary action.
Summer said she was suspended for “insubordination,” according to her disciplinary notice.
“It’s just sad because I worked so hard for four years to walk across that stage,” Summer told WCNC. “We have drug dealers walking across that stage, we have sex offenders walking across that stage and then the 4.4 student who showed her shoulders can’t.”
“This is my life, I’m on a pre-med track,” Summer told the news station. “A full ride means so much and that is on the line right now.”
3. 45 Students Were Sent to the Principal’s Office Earlier in the Year for Wearing Leggings With Shirts Cline Said Were Too Short
The incident is not the first time that the dress code at Hickory Ridge High School has made the news this year. In September, 45 students were sent to Principal Michelle Cline’s office because they were wearing leggings with shirts deemed to be too short, the Cabarrus County Independent Tribune reported.
The female students were sent to the office to have the length of their shirts measured, according to the newspaper.
“Hickory Ridge High School’s dress code guidelines are not new. The guidelines are included in the school’s student handbook. There is an item which addresses leggings,” Cabarrus County school district spokesperson Ronnye Boone told the newspaper. “Students are allowed to wear them as long as the shirt they wear is the length of their extended fingertips.”
A new policy was put in place regarding leggings in February, according to a post from a student newspaper.
“The new clear-cut policy starts Monday, February 27th. Once it begins you will be sent to the office if you are not wearing a long enough shirt,” the post said. “Additionally, you will either be sent home, given a longer top or detained in a private classroom for the rest of the day to make sure your outfit does not distract other students. To stay out of trouble, student’s shirts must be longer than fingertip length. ”
Cline has several “administrative responsibilities” in her role as principal, according to the school’s website, including “preparing for and monitoring the School Improvement Plan and student achievement,” “supervision” and “dress code.”
In March, she wrote a blog post about how she dealt with protests over a police shooting in Charlotte in October 2016:
After the police shootings of African-American males and the riots/protests that occurred in many major cities including Charlotte, NC, back in October 2016, one of my students posted on social media that they were going to protest on Monday during our lunch/intervention block by laying down in the middle of the lobby area. The post also explained “they can’t suspend us for protesting.” When I saw this post Friday night, I experienced a variety of feelings. The first feeling I had was concern for school safety—the safety of these students as well as the rest of the students at the school. My next concern was that I had students who felt passionately that they needed to be heard. My third feeling was how could I help them be and feel heard?
The words that struck me the most were “laying down,” “lunch time,” and “lobby.” These words resonated with me because I know that at lunch time, 1700 students must pass through my school’s lobby area to get anywhere—and it’s the only way to get to the cafeteria. Therefore, I realized that having a protest, regardless of how peaceful or how violent, that involved students laying down in this area was not safe. Knowing that I did not want to squelch my students’ needs to be heard or their civic responsibility, I was very conflicted on how to prevent this from happening without verbally prohibiting the protest. On Monday morning, I met with the student who seemed responsible for the post, and I tried to talk with him about other options for protests that were more safe. After meeting with 4 different students, who were the alleged leaders of the protest, I still couldn’t get any sense of passion, concern or leadership from any of them. These individuals didn’t seem like students who wanted to lead a movement. Because I was still afraid that a possible protest, which could lead to a grave safety risk and a substantial disruption, I changed our schedule for the day. Rather than observing the common lunch/intervention block schedule which leads to all 1700 students being free at one time, we observed our traditional schedule, in which there are 4 lunches, which students go to by 3rd period classes and during which all students must be in the cafeteria. Essentially, I eliminated the opportunity for such a protest to occur.
Two days later, I brought in an African-American speaker, who is a former lawyer and FBI agent to speak to my students about his own experiences and the recent police shootings and cases. He also gave the students an opportunity to ask their questions and share their concerns. All students were invited to attend this assembly; approximately 200 attended. At the time, I felt somewhat comforted in my thought that I had not answered my students’ concerns with silence, and that I had given them a type of outlet for their voices. Yet, I am still a little haunted by my fear that I took the easy way out—that by giving them my assembly option, I suppressed and marginalized their option, which is unfortunately, the issue that led to their need to protest in the first place.
She wrote, “In light of Tinker v. Des Moines, I did not violate these students’ Freedom of Speech because I did not formally prohibit the protest.”
You can read the full post here.
4. She Has Previously Worked as a Teacher & an Assistant Principal in the District
Cline, 44, whose maiden name is Michelle Rinehardt, has worked as a teacher and administrator in North Carolina for several years. She is originally from Concord, according to the Salisbury Post.
She studied English at Catawba College in Salisbury, and then earned her master’s degree in English from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. She also has a master’s degree in educational leadership from Wingate University.
Cline has been teaching since 1997. She won the Rowan County Teacher of the Year Award in 2001 and was also the Salisbury High School Teacher of the Year. She was also named a Time Warner Cable Star Teacher three times and was picked as the Coca Cola Educator of Distinction in the district in 2000, according to the Salisbury Post.
Before becoming the principal at Hickory Ridge High School, Cline was an assistant principal at Jay M. Robinson High School, also in the Cabarrus County School District, from 2010 to 2011, and an assistant principal at Hickory Ridge from 2012 to 2013.
She has also worked at the UNC Charlotte Writing Project and as an adjunct professor at Catawba College, the Salisbury Post reported.
5. Angry Social Media Users Have Been Calling & Sending Emails to Cline & School District Officials, With Some Calling for Her to be Fired
Angry social media users have posted on Twitter and Facebook that they have been calling Michelle Cline’s office and sending her emails throughout the weekend. Calls demanding the disciplinary action be reversed have also been sent to Cabarrus County School Disrtict officials, including Superintendent Chris Lowder, and school board members. Many tweets have also been directed at accounts belonging to the school and officials.
Some are calling for Cline to be fired.
“I demand the immediate dismissal of Michelle Cline. I fully believe that when she threatened Summer with arrest, she knew that a student could not be arrested for violating the dress code. That being the case, Ms. Cline actually DID commit a crime. It is against the law for someone in a position of power to make what they know are frivolous legal threats against someone under their purview,” wrote Charlotte Townsend on Twitter.
“Appalling behavior. I look forward to the termination of Michelle Cline and the reinstatement of the young woman you suspended,” another Twitter user posted, directing the tweet at the school district’s account.
Another wrote, “Michelle cline deserves to have the same effect on her career that she placed on that students future.”
The story began to go viral after this string of tweets.
Several people posted screenshots of the emails sent to the principal and school district officials.
One former student took to Facebook to express her anger. “This. This honestly infuriates me. As a former student who has witnessed Michelle Cline’s power tripping I can honestly say this is probably the worst. We are talking about a girl and A SHIRT,” Riley Alexandra Scott wrote:
The problem with conservative ‘rules are rules’ ‘you parents are bad at parenting and I’m so good at it because modesty is taught in my home’ is that you refuse too listen too your children and see what is going on in their community. YOU are not seeing the bigger picture here. This student with a highly commendable 4.4 GPA is not walking at her graduation (FOR A SHIRT AND WAITING FOR HER MOTHER) when SEVERAL drug dealers who have ruined families and other students will throw their caps up in the air while they are enlightened that they made It through high school without going to prison.
I do know this girl and I doubt she was giving any real trouble. Michelle Cline is upset that she is being exposed to her student body as anything less than professional when that is what she is. The inequality in the school baffles me. From choosing who she’s wants to target for dress code, which athlete’s grades she wants to change, or which athletes she will let bypass the rules after getting hammered at prom because she wants a state championship. But that only applies to football players and not softball players as I witnessed scholarships and futures being stripped away from the young ladies when the boys were found under the next season’s Friday night lights. I GUARANTEE you there were several students in that area dressed considerably inappropriate. If there was consistency it would make sense, but there never is and it is ridiculous .
This lady does not care about her students which infuriates me as a future educator. She had problems when she was just a teacher at the school so I don’t understand why anyone thought it would be a good idea to put her in authority. When the majority of the student body doesn’t respect you, it is because you have let them down in several ways and you come across as a joke. We are talking about a lady dress coding students while there are highly inappropriate photos of her floating through her student body.
This is why I believe so many students are upset and fed up with this school. So parents don’t be so quick to judge because this is the environment that your children are getting their education is. Students who are so undeserving are about to walk across the stage on June 10th while this young lady is going to have to figure out if she can even still go to college. I hurt so deeply for this girl and really wish there was something that I could do about this.
Cline, the school district’s superintendent and school board members could not immediately be reached for comment. The district and high school have not put out a statement or commented about the suspension.