School dress code mulled

Friday, August 26, 2011

The pros and cons of "standardized school attire" were discussed at length at a school board policy committee meeting Tuesday. No conclusion was reached.

"This one isn't ready to vote on," exclaimed Donnie Moses as the committee prepared to adjourn.

Information about standardized school attire has already been sent to community members, and school principals and administrators.

"We need to have lots of conversations" with all these people, said Barbara Kennedy.

Discussion quickly revealed that enforcing any kind of dress code is time consuming for administrators and takes students out of the classroom.

"We've got a lot to do," Forrest principal Danny Morgan said. "We can't police that stuff."

Interim assistant director Dr. Larry Miller agreed, and asked rhetorically, "What's the real pressure on teachers now?" and answered himself, "To make AYP," adequate yearly progress.

Marshall County High School principal Keith Stacey concurred and went further.

"There are too many rules in the current code," Stacey said. "I like positive policies. Tell me what I can wear. Our current policy is all about what you can't do. Time out of class is detrimental to what we exist for."

All Morgan really wants, he said, are decently dressed students.

"As an administrator," he said. "I want to stop seeing the cracks in the back and the cracks in the front."

"Maybe we're going at it the wrong way," joked Kennedy. "We just need a 'no crack' policy."

More seriously, she went on, "Instead of enhancing the policy, we need to simplify it. There's always going to be somebody who pushes the envelope. Perhaps we should say, 'attire that's disruptive to the learning environment shall not be tolerated.'"

"You also have to consider what's disruptive to the teacher," Patty Hill, a teacher at Lewisburg Middle School, reminded them.

"We know we want it simplified," summarized committee chairman Ann Tears.

"I'd like to find somebody who's happy with their policy," added Moses.

Kennedy told the group that Maury County Schools Director Eddie Hickman had offered to talk to them in person, or by conference call, about the pros and cons of his district's standard school attire.

Committee members had copies of both Maury County's and Metro Nashville's school attire policies, which vary in detail, but seem to agree on "pants, shorts, Capri pants, skirts, skorts or jumpers in the colors of navy blue, black, or any shade of khaki. Shirts with short or long sleeves and a collar (polo, dress-style with buttons, or turtleneck), in the solid colors or white or navy blue." Policies all seem to specify clothing must be the correct size, neither too tight nor too baggy, and shirts must be tucked in at the natural waistline.

Then the devil is in the details: What, if any, additional colors of shirts are allowed? Are jeans permitted on specified days? What about school T-shirts? Jewelry? Piercings? Tattoos?

"It's not a uniform," Kennedy stressed.

Committee members agreed plenty more discussion will be needed, with as much input from community members as possible, before any changes are made in Marshall County's current policy 6.310 "Dress Code." To view the policy online go to, click on the School Board tab, and then scroll down to the "Policy On-line" box and click on that.

In other business, the policy committee intends to bring to the full school board a policy on service animals (such as seeing eye dogs) in schools, similar to the one Knox County already has.

The committee also asked Dukes to create an administrative procedure that tightens up the requirements for graduation, so that everyone who walks across the stage and receives a diploma on graduation night is truly a graduate, with no work to make up during the summer. This was also perceived as a way to keep 18-year-old seniors in school. Because they are technically adults, 18-year-olds cannot be punished for truancy the way 17-year-olds can through the loss of a driver's license, appearance in Juvenile Court and the Truancy Board.