School attire rules debated

Friday, September 30, 2011

By Karen Hall

Staff Writer

Marshall County students are one step closer to wearing standardized school attire because of school board policy committee discussion this week.

The meeting ended with committee members declaring they were ready for input on school attire from Lewisburg Police Officer John Christmas who's also a county commissioner.

Christmas is aware of youth gangs, so he's being consulted, as will school officials from Maury and Bedford counties because they have standardized school attire policies.

"It's a work in progress," school board chairman Mike Keny said Monday night. "We have to listen to other counties, and to parents. Let the students have a voice, too."

Committee chairman Ann Tears agreed.

"It's not set in stone," she said. "We have to listen."

Interim assistant director Larry Miller said the key is to make parents aware. Drawing on his experience as principal of Forrest School he added, "The ones who don't show up are the ones who will argue with you."

Miller also stated the desired outcome of any new dress code: "Get rid of cracks and cleavage."

"Our principals want it as simple as possible," Tears agreed, but discussion quickly revealed that even a statement like "jeans and khakis," is open to interpretation.

"Please be specific," pleaded Lewisburg Middle School teacher Patty Hill from the audience. She explained she has a male student who has purple, pink, and yellow pairs of jeans that he wears to school.

In addition to wild colors, jeans nowadays come in a huge variety of shades of blue, as well as being sold with factory-made rips and holes, which everyone agreed would not be allowed.

"Let's stick to navy blue, black and khaki," suggested schools director Roy Dukes.

The conversation touched on other topics like skirt lengths and the types and colors of shirts that could be permitted.

"You can discuss this all night long," Dukes said. There seemed to be an exception for every guideline, and a way to bend every rule.

"There will be some who will push it to the limit and challenge it at every chance they get," Miller said.

"Let the principals run their building," Keny suggested, but Oak Grove principal Judy Rickman, who was in the audience, pointed out, "Consistency is important."

The discussion moved on to piercings and tattoos.

"Ninety percent of tattoos are gang related," Miller said. "They have to be able to cover them up, or they'll be sitting there laughing at us."

Committee members agreed this was a good reason to hear from Christmas, who is something of an expert on gang activity.

Guided by Tears, they agreed to hold another policy committee meeting in late October, when Christmas, as well as representatives from other counties could be present.

Meanwhile, Marshall County principals will be asked to take another look at, and make comments on, the current suggested standardized school attire policy.

At the very end of the meeting, committee members realized that the policy did not say anything about sweatshirts, sweaters, sweater vests, or hoodies, so there is still more talking to do before they have it "nailed down" and ready to take out to the community.