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In a Victory for Students, Divided School Board Relaxes High School Dress Code Substantially

| May 19, 2015

gregory gardner michael manning flagler county schools dress code

The relaxed dress code was largely achieved through the work of student board member Michael Manning, at the far end, and Buddy Taylor Middle School student Gregory Gardner, here addressing the board in March, who appears to have helped convinced board member Janet McDonald to support the change. McDonald provided the crucial swing vote for the more relaxed policy, which kicks in next fall. (© FlaglerLive)

The Flagler County School Board Tuesday evening substantially relaxed its dress code for high school students.


Starting next fall, students will be allowed to wear so-called “spirit” shirts such as school-logo t-shirts, team jerseys or school or district-club shirts every day of the week, rather than just on designated “spirit” days or on Fridays. In addition to that, high school students will no longer have to abide by the requirement that they wear only solid-colored collared shirts, when they’re not wearing the other kinds of allowed t-shirts. Starting this fall, they’ll also be allowed to wear plaid or striped shirts—in essence, any sort of collared shirt that looks presentable, as long as it doesn’t sport images or wild themes.

The policy does not change for middle and elementary schools, where the allowance for spirit-day shirts remains, but only on Fridays.

The board voted 3-2 to adopt the new policy after a discussion that once again divided the board and tested tempers, particularly those of board member Sue Dickinson (against the change) and board chair Colleen Conklin (for the change). But the vote also showed the significance of the last election’s only change on the board: Janet McDonald proved to be the swing vote in favor of the more relaxed policy. The man she’d replaced, John Fischer, had been a staunch supporter of a strict dress code—he had favored uniforms—and in March had urged the board to go stricter, not looser.

“What I heard from one of the deans was that we took a non-issue and made it the second-most reportable misbehavior,” McDonald said, recalling the six days she spent at the district’s two high school, observing and speaking with faculty. “I think that’s atrocious. We have our professionals spending hours monitoring clothing. That’s not why they’re there.”

Tuesday’s vote was a pronounced victory for students, and especially for two students in particular: Michael Manning, the Matanzas High School senior and student representatives on the board, who initiated the proposal to loosen the dress code and shepherded it to conclusion; and Gregory Gadrner, a Buddy Taylor Middle School student who petitioned the board for a looser policy in March—submitting a set of petitions from fellow-students—and lectured it about free expression in the American tradition. McDonald, a reputed conservative, was especially complimentary of Gardner tonight, referring to his speech and his ideas repeatedly, and singling him out for thanks, though Gardner’s work will benefit upper grade students, not middle school students. (See the complete speech below.)

“As long as what you wear is not something that hurts anyone or something that brings real cause for the belief that of danger then you should be allowed to wear it,” Gardner had said to the board in March. “We are able to talk freely without extremely rude things said in school so why can’t we wear things under those kinds of rules? We used to have a dress code policy that was very lenient, the clothes just had to be morally right to wear.”

Conklin had wanted to liberalize the dress code even more, eliminating all limitations on collared shirts, not just open them up to plaid and stripes. “If it’s a striped, collared dress shirt, that would be acceptable,” Conklin said. “If it had pinstripes on it, any color basically, any pattern.” She said that was the recommendation she’d heard from faculty and deans “who are saying it’s ridiculous when you have a child who is dressed sharp, to the nines, with a collared shirt, pressed, looks sharp, but it has thin stripes on it, they are put in a position of writing this child up. It’s silly. I’m not saying throw away the uniform policy at all. What I am saying is, if we’re going to be allowing for the use of a school t-shirt, we certainly should be open to the discussion of a professional looking collared shirt of any color, any color means any pattern, any color.”

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But she ran into resistance from Dickinson and board member Trevor Tucker. Tucker considered the stricter rule a safety issue, to prevent strangers from blending in with the student body. Dickinson did as well, but also wanted a stricter code regardless.

“You might as well take the dress code out,” Dickinson told Conklin, “because what are we limiting at that point, and how are we protecting our students in our schools if we say any color? It’s one thing to say we’re going to have school spirit days and the kids are going to wear spirit clothes or the school clothing or whatever, any day that they wish. But to alter it completely, you need to be a lot more specific.”

Dickinson openly and rather blatantly questioned Conklin’s veracity when Conklin claimed that she was merely putting forth faculty recommendations.

“I’d like to hear it from staff because I talked to staff and staff told me completely opposite,” Dickinson said.

“I find that very surprising,” Conklin retorted. “I’m not even going to sit here and play games.”

Katrina Townsend, the director of student services who’s been the point person on dress code matters for years, found herself in the position of arbitrator, and diplomatically offered a sum-up: “There are some staff members who would say it would simplify the disciplinary routine if you could wear anything,” Townsend said, “but then when there was lengthy discussion about it, the questions came up, so then could the students wear Hawaiian shirts, like with the big flower prints. Could they then wear this, could they wear that. From an enforcement perspective, honestly, the more simplified is generally easier to use, and to enforce. That was the recommendation.”

Board member Andy Dance, possibly the most successful consensus builder on any local government board, offered a compromise: rather than Conklin’s elimination of the solid rule, he offered the stripes and plaid additions.

That worked. And after a little more sniping between Conklin and Dickinson over the procedural matter of the vote, the board voted 3-2 to adopt the new policy, with Trucker and Dickinson in dissent.

Manning, the student board member, had the last word on the matter later in the evening, as he spoke his last comments as a student board member (he’s graduating).

“Tonight showed how far we’ve come over a few months,” Manning said. “When I proposed spirit-wear shirts, I never imagined touching regular polos, and then in the matter of 10 minutes we changed that as well, so I think that shows a lot of growth from this board. The board had a great opportunity to listen  to students, to listen to parents, and they did. I think that’s a great win for students and parents as well. So I couldn’t be more pleased for how things worked out.”

Pressing his advantage, he left the board with a brand new initiative to tackle in his absence: the paving of Matanzas High School’s parking lot.”Should I end it just saying thank you? It wouldn’t seem fitting. So I would decide to go with proposing a new idea,” he said.

The following is the complete speech Buddy Taylor Middle School student Gregory Gardner spoke to the school board in March, when he submitted a petition from fellow students asking for a more relaxed dress code. Regretfully, Gardner will not be able to benefit from the policy he had a strong hand in changing, as he will be moving with his family come June to Polk County, as close to a militarized county and school district as there is in Florida.

We as Americans do have freedom of expression. But sometimes I can find myself questioning this. In school, we can’t wear a t-shirt, we can only wear solid colored pants, there are limits on our jackets. And we call this acceptable? The school district forces us to wear certain colored collared shirts, yet our First Amendment rights allow us to do as we want, as long as doing so harms no one. Does wearing my favorite shirt hurt someone? I don’t think so. In the Supreme Court court case Tinker vs. Des Moines they said that constitutional rights are not completely taken away when one walks into a public school. So when the school goes and says that someone is not allowed to wear certain clothes, are they going against our constitutional rights? I believe so.

The freedom of expression as given in the First Amendment allows us to do, say wear, think, and act however we want to. If we want to stand at the White House and scream “MR. PRESIDENT YOU SUCK” from dawn to dusk, we can. We can also wear the clothes that we like, whether it says, “it’s a nice day” on the shirt or “the world is a terrible place.” Yes, there are some that say that in school your are stripped of these rights and must obey any rule that the school makes. This is true to an extent. If the school says no foul language, that is perfectly fine, you probably shouldn’t be using it anyway. This protects others around you from hearing you say things that are rude and explicit. You can still express how you feel and have your point made just as well. But let’s say the schools were to say that you cannot speak anything at all but things that are extremely positive, and that if you did not follow this rule you are suspended. This is wrong. What if you do not agree with something, and you feel strongly against it, then you are suspended for it? That is when the school has gone too far. So what’s the difference? To be completely honest, there is none.

So where exactly does freedom of expression end? When someone is starting to be harmful in the way that he or she express themselves. Things that qualify as harmful would be things like wearing a realistic bomb vest to a bank saying it’s armed and holding up the building. Another thing would be to wear clothing that looks like a jail uniform that says “Guantanamo inmate, high level of danger.” These both are things that frighten people and make them believe that there is real danger. As long as what you wear is not something that hurts anyone or something that brings real cause for danger, then you should be allowed to wear it. We are able to talk freely without extremely rude things said in school. Why can’t we wear things under those kinds of rules? We used to have a dress code policy that was very lenient. Clothes just had to be morally right to wear.

With all of this said, in the Supreme Court in Tinker ruled 7-2 that students do not shed all of their rights just by entering school and therefore can wear what they want. We should be able to run on a dress policy of modesty instead of having a strict dress code in witch we have such little choice in what to wear. The case was actually regarding a school banning students from wearing certain items of clothing protesting the Vietnam War. Courts said that schools can enforce rules that can keep people safe, but to go as far as saying that the students couldn’t wear things that were not harmful nor rude was wrong.

We as citizens of the United States do not immediately loose or rights by walking into school. Dressing as we want is expression. If you want to wear clothes that are dark and gloomy, you can. If you want to wear things that are bright and fun, you can. The schools should not take this right from you. We have freedom of expression, protected by the First Amendment. We need to fight to keep this right.

I like to be able to wear what I want. In school, that can’t happen. We have rights but apparently the school system does not acknowledge them. In school we should be able to wear what we want and express ourselves freely. The only way things can change is if students and parents speak up and have our voices heard so that this current policy might be changed.

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26 Responses for “In a Victory for Students, Divided School Board Relaxes High School Dress Code Substantially”

  1. Charles Gardner says:

    I am so proud of my son Gregory.

    • Jay Wright says:

      You should be, he seems to have a good head on his shoulders :)

    • I/M/O says:

      So Mr. Gardner would the rights you son claims he has to Freedom of Expression in the school then not also apply to the employees of the school as per the Equal Protection Clause (14th Amendment) of the very same U.S. Constitution?

      A male teacher could show up for work in track shorts, a t-shirt and flip flops?

      A female teacher could show up in hot pants and a halter top?

      A Principal would not need to wear a shirt at all given he has First Amendment Rights.
      Of course not.

      So no Mr. Gardner the freedoms you son believes he has under the First Amendment do not apply. Everybody in the schools has a dress code.

      Mr. Gardner don’t you have a “Dress code” at your place of employment? Don’t you abide by it? Of course you do.

      • C. says:

        You choose to take employment and thus abide by the employee rules/manual.
        Students are required by law to attend school.

  2. ted bundy says:

    this is letting the the inmates run the asylum..the kids should not be in power, the adults here are abdicating their responsibility..its ridiculous..

    • Jay Wright says:

      Except they are not inmates, they are young adults. They have rights that inmates do not. It would also seem that some of them have more common sense than some of the adults running the show, or those calling it ridiculous. Having a student council is for this purpose. To work with whatever governing council there is to get things done that work in favor for everyone. Also with your screen name, I doubt anyone will take you seriously, unless it is to put you on a watch list.

  3. Bob says:

    There is no uniform policy anymore. Too bad, it puts everyone on an even playing field.

  4. YankeeExPat says:

    Could be worse things. I went to Parochial Grammar school in the 70’s and our school uniform consisted of a Red Blazer with a white shirt, black pants and a Red Bowtie. Along with the school mandated short haircut for the boys, we all looked like a miniature Jerry Lewis. The girls were no better off with their huge pleated Tartan Red/Grey Plaid skirts that made them look like Mel Gibson in Braveheart.

  5. Nancy N says:

    “What I heard from one of the deans was that we took a non-issue and made it the second-most reportable misbehavior.” – Funny, I seem to recall someone telling the board members that repeatedly before they passed the dress code several years ago. oh yeah, that’s right – IT WAS ME. Too bad most of them couldn’t see basic common sense on the issue or they wouldn’t be back pedaling now.

    I don’t understand this hang-up by certain board members about wanting to maintain a stricter dress code for security reasons so that outsiders will not be able to blend in. With uniform clothing widely available in local stores, anyone who wants to blend in under the current dress code can do so by going and buying a solid colored polo shirt. It’s not exactly rocket science. Any high school kid can figure it out – but apparently several of the board members can’t? In any event, the question of people not being able to blend in if they aren’t wearing a uniform is really moot if the staff isn’t wearing the uniform. Is that person with their back to you at the other end of the hallway wearing the wrong color shirt with no collar an intruder – or a staff member? Hard to tell.

    I also frankly just have never understood the obsession with collars. What is so magical about a collar? I own plenty of professional outfits and none of them have shirts with collars.

  6. BIG JOHN says:

    I think the kid is smarter than the grown-ups. Who else agrees?

    • Jay Wright says:

      I agree.

    • I/M/O says:

      So as per the Freedom of Expression a student could wear a mask in school?

      If not why not? After all it is his “Right” as per the First Amendment.

      Or so some students still wet behind the ears believe.

  7. Livesinpalmcoast says:

    Why only high school and not the others…..not fair to me….change one school change them all….

  8. steve miller says:

    I am so glad that the school board doesn’t have anything more important to spend their time on.

  9. Brad W says:

    All of the was well said by Gregory Gardner.

    1) What he will hopefully learn later on in life is that freedom is not without repercussions.

    2) When it comes to “morals” who decides what is “morally acceptable”?

    I personally like the idea of instilling a value system in students of being presentable. Dress codes are not a bad thing for students at all. These are mindsets and values they will need to be successful later on. These are real issues facing many 20-somethings today that grew up with the “they should be able to freely express themselves” junk who are struggling in workplaces. Conforming is not a bad thing. Boundaries are not a bad thing. We are doing a lot of disservices to kids today today by not drawing very visible lines in the sand and saying “no”.

    • Nancy N says:

      I for one never asked for there to be no dress code at all. But I don’t think you teach kids anything when you tell them EXACTLY what to wear everyday. You don’t teach them to make any decisions about what is and isn’t appropriate for a situation. You just teach them to follow a very specific set rule – you must wear THIS shirt or you get in trouble. That doesn’t teach any judgement or common sense. It teaches blind following of rules. People who work at McDonald’s need to know how to wear the same shirt every day. I think most parents want better for their kids than that.

      In my professional job, I have to make decisions constantly about what to wear for a variety of situations. I’m self-employed so there is no boss to turn to for guidance. What is appropriate to wear for that trade show? Is the evening or education event a different sort of dress code from the regular show days? What about dressing for the plane when I might be seeing professional contacts when I arrive at the hotel after traveling all day? What should I be wearing for that video conference call from my home office with a new client? What should I wear to attend a local business event? What should I wear to attend as a consumer an event related to my field of work, in case I run into business contacts?

      Teaching kids to wear the same shirt and pants every day doesn’t teach them to make any of those nuanced decisions.

      Boundaries are not a bad thing and there were boundaries in place before the uniform code was enacted. Had they actually been enforced there would have been no problem. What happened is that in an attempt to make it “easier” to enforce the boundaries by making them very cut and dried, they swept a whole lot of other people up into the dress code wars, so to speak, who didn’t need to be there. They started making offenders out of good kids for wearing the wrong color or a stripe. They created huge hassles for parents who had always dressed their kids appropriately. They threw the entire student population under the bus of “simplification” instead of stepping up and taking responsibility for taking on policing the code they had with a few offenders. Seriously, to force a dress code on 5 year olds in the name of teaching them to dress for work is INSANE. Can we teach them to, I don’t know, READ before we worry about how they are going to dress for their jobs?

  10. JohnL says:

    Seems there’s some education and independent sprited thinking going on here. Great this young man has not been trained to accept being made a sheeple.

  11. sam smith says:

    i as a student have gotten quiet a few referrals for dress code, and its for things that shouldn’t matter like why should we have to wear collars under our sweatshirts, what is so great about collars i never once got a referral or any type of punishment until they changed the dress code and i think a lot of students can agree

  12. KMedley says:

    These two young men are to be applauded. They have successfully demonstrated both the virtue of patience and the ability of citizens “to petition the government for a redress of grievances” (First Amendment). Each took time to collect data, seek opinions from fellow students and faculty; and. young Mr. Gardner topped it off with my favorite passage from his speech:

    “We as citizens of the United States do not immediately loose our rights by walking into school. Dressing as we want is expression. If you want to wear clothes that are dark and gloomy, you can. If you want to wear things that are bright and fun, you can. The schools should not take this right from you. We have freedom of expression, protected by the First Amendment. We need to fight to keep this right”.

    Not only are these two students to be commended; their instructors are to be recognized, too. They reached these two and these two took those lessons taught and learned and applied them in a way so as to benefit their community. Well done!

  13. I/M/O says:

    Going to school is preparation for life. As far a I am concerned a “Student job” is to go to school.

    When you finally take a job there will be a dress code. There may be grooming codes. There will be things one cannot wear to work for safety reasons in many jobs. There will be no Freedom of Expression when you finally take a job.

    So yes the schools requiring a dress code are only preparing the children for the realities of life. The quicker these students learn that “Dress Codes” are going to part of their lives for most of their adult working lives the better off they will be.

    • Nancy N says:

      Most employers require appropriate dress, with little stipulation about what that is. The only ones who require “dress codes” anywhere near as stringent or as specific as what Flagler Schools have been requiring are menial minimum wage jobs.

      And don’t be so sure that there is no “freedom of expression” when you take a job. It depends on what field you work in.

      In most industries, what would you consider appropriate to wear to a trade show to market your company’s services? Most people would probably say a suit or at least an outfit with a jacket. Formal business wear.

      But I work in the crafts industry. If you show up at our trade shows in formal business attire, you are immediately tagging yourself as out of touch with the industry and its culture. People will notice you…but for all the wrong reasons. Business casual is the prevailing aesthetic, with an emphasis (for women especially) on handmade items and a creative vibe: funky footwear and jewelry, colorful hair, brilliant scarves.

      If all you’ve been taught to do is to follow dress code rules blindly your whole career and not make observations and judgements yourself about what is appropriate, you are going to be lost trying to fit in.

      I’m not understanding this hang-up about teaching kids to follow dress code rules as students so that they will be prepared to follow those rules as adults. If they are raised right, they will follow [ethical, appropriate] rules that are laid in front of them by their employer without issue. As adults, we have to follow rules in many areas that we didn’t as kids. We file taxes, drive cars, all sorts of things that have rules. Do we need to start making 6 year olds fill out tax forms so that they will get used to for when they are grown up too?

      What you are talking about doing isn’t training kids to follow rules. It’s programming, even brainwashing them, that this is the way it’s going to be so they better get used to it. You’re talking about drumming into kids’ heads practically from birth (since some kids start school as young as 3) that they wear what “the man” tells them without dissent.

      I find your statement that “The quicker these students learn that “Dress Codes” are going to part of their lives for most of their adult working lives the better off they will be” to be very revealing. I would bet you work for an employer – probably in management – that hires low wage workers that have to wear uniforms. You want the school system to do the work of providing you pre-broken employees who will not think twice about wearing a uniform.

      Sorry, but the school system’s job is to educate kids not break them psychologically so they’ll make a perfect employee for their future minimum wage job.

  14. Anonymous says:

    Janet McDonald seems to be the only with to realize that dress has been turned into a behavior issue wasting lots of tax dollars and robbing children from an education. There are lots of teachers who need a dress code!!! Teachers constantly state how they are underpaid, well guess what, they are paid more than many other parents out there and yet the burden of buying specific clothes has been placed upon us parents. It is time to get off the police patrol, adopt a reasonable dress code and enforce it. School is not prison. Having students dress to a dress code is not how it is in the real world-most employers don’t enforce or have a dress code. It is a sad day when a kid has to beg to wear something special for spirit day. It is a disgrace that the schools have been forcing kids to buy from them shirts to wear spirit day if they don’t want to wear a uniform shirt. Abolish the uniforms and let a kid wear their football jersey every day if they are proud to do so! Thank you Janet Mc Donald for bringing this very important point to the forefront.

  15. gio says:

    so in hs we can wear what we want

  16. lena Marshal says:

    Correct me if I am wrong, didn’t Ms Conklin, and her friend John Fischer, adopt the last dress code that started all this mess, and now she wants to change it?

  17. kat says:

    Honestly, I’m a student myself I may be going to Flagler so i was researching I come from georgia I went to an amazing highschool that had a very linient dress code policy and there was nm. Like if our administrators worried about inappropriate and offensiv clothing like if it covered everthying and didn’t hurt anyone or offend them then we could wear it my school allowed us to express ourselfs because when we are comfortable being ourselves then that brings the best out of us and thats another reason why that school was so great. And we like bring ourselves.. like isn’t different supposed to accepted nowadays..? I agree with more linient because it actually can be more helpful than harmful I’ve witnessed it for myself… like this day in age its good to be yourself so don’t take that away because clothing is a way we do that …

  18. kat says:

    Sorry for so many misspellings my sisters phone is ridicously slow and stupid

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