It’s not going to be your older sibling’s dress code anymore come next fall. Not likely, anyway.
A Flagler County school district committee is proposing to vastly scale back the rigidity of the dress code, or what’s left of it, 10 years after the School Board adopted a strict uniform policy–only for the policy to be relentlessly eroded over time.
The proposal before the School Board would eliminate all specific shirt requirements such as the mandate for oxford style or button up dress shirts in favor of any solid-colored or patterned shirt, regardless of design, with or without collar. Color restrictions would end. Shirts would no longer be required to be tucked in. Students would be allowed to wear sports shirts, team jerseys or club shirts–but only as long as those are associated with their own school. The only real prohibition would be on pajama wearing at school (or sleepwear), though designers like Cozy Earth–an Oprah favorite–and others at times make it hard to distinguish between sleepwear and non-sleepwear. And midriffs, which remain and inexplicable fixation for rule-minded adults, would still have to be as veiled as Muslim women’s faces from Tunis to Islamabad. Shorts, skirts, skorts or jumpers are all acceptable, respecting certain mid-thigh lengths.
Some standard prohibitions would continue, from the wearing of sheer clothing to the wearing of “insignia or logos related to drugs, alcohol, violence, gangs, or offensive topics deemed inappropriate by administration.” No head coverings inside the building, though the wearing of hoodies is rarely enforced. Undergarments must remain under. No indoor sunglasses, no ostentatious jewelry, no ridiculously baggy clothes, and “tattoos deemed inappropriate by school administration must be covered.” In a nod to the Columbine school massacres, where the murderers wore them, trench coats remain prohibited. School identification cards remain a requirement for students in grades six and above. (See the full policies in draft form here and here.)
The latest proposed revisions were prompted by yet another push by students to relax the code, by the effects of the two-year pandemic on a code that seemed anachronistic with more serious concerns, and by a relatively new director of students services, Marquez Jackson, who is again placing students’ well being at the center of policy considerations, rather than seeing the dress code as means to an end that did not always take students’ well being in consideration. Jackson used language reflecting a psychological perspective about students that had not been used previously in discussions about dress codes or uniform policies.
“At the end of the day, if a child feels that, hey, I really feel like I’m a part of this school, I feel like everybody wants me to be here, I’m comfortable in clothing,” Jackson told the School Board at a workshop today, “and there’s a multitude of reasons that came out in the committee about why the kid may want to opt for this article clothing or another. I think we also have to keep in mind the mental health state of where our kids are. There are a lot of kids that may not feel comfortable about their body. So, we have this conversation. There are kids that wear hoodies in 90-degree weather, and it doesn’t matter what age they are.”
In light of that information, Jackson said, the idea is to keep students on campus. “I just want us to keep that in mind: we want the kids to be here. And how they present themselves at school sometimes can have a great impact in them walking through the door.”
Jackson said the recommendations were brought forward for the school board to discuss and refine. They’re not a done deal. Jackson wanted to test the board’s recepticity, but he is looking for a relatively swift resolution. Jackson said he is looking for a final vote on the policy this spring, with June 21 a likely date, with one or two workshops in between to refine the matter further.
“I would appreciate some time to really digest it” before make a decision for next year,” School Board member Colleen Conklin said. Conklin’s initial reaction is that the proposal results in not much of a dress code at all.
School Board member Jill Woolbright seemed receptive to the new policy, if only as a ore realistic admission of realities on the ground. “We have pajama pants all over campus. We have some midriffs all over campus,” Woolbright said. “Kids look like they rolled out of bed, literally, and they’re walking around campus. So we have lost control. If we’re going to supposedly loosen control, we’re really not going to be losing control, we’re going to be gaining control.”
The tenor of the discussion was vastly different from what it was in 2010 to 2012, when dress codes and uniforms seemed to be the searing question of the day. The more routine, relaxed discussion today is an indication of how far key topics have shifted, with–or example–book-banning, gender issues and the content of textbooks now drawing the higher decibels, and issues like dress codes seeming to be concerns from another era. Two public town halls on dress codes drew zero participation last month.
Still, Woolbright had a few issues. “It’s not concrete enough,” Woolbright said. “For instance, what is an offensive topic? This day and age, everybody’s offended by everything. So that’s extremely vague, so I don’t think it’s enforceable, so why even use it?” She had problems with “little logos,” which could lead to “worded shirts with messages” and who would judge those, or the allowance or disallowance of political shirts, or club shirts. “This is so confusing, I don;t know how it is enforceable or what there is to enforce,” she said.
Two board members today–Woolbright and Janet McDonald–obsessed about midriffs showing. The [proposed policy is intended to address that concern, stating that “Students’ midriff should not be seen when arms are raised.” Students Woolbright said, would “wear tops that barely when they were standing up met the edge of their bottoms. So they just scratched their head, you would see their belly, so as they’re moving about the day, you were seeing their belly all the time. So that’s why it was worded as, that if you raise your hands you still can’t see your belly.” It wasn’t made clear who, exactly, was so keep on belly-spotting the moment a girl would raise an arm to scratch her head, or what form of school discipline or decorum would collapse if that were to happen.
“A lot of students wanted to make sure that we weren’t isolating or picking out certain students,” Jackson said, “trying to make it universal. So when you use language like midriff, you’re trying to make it so that it’s not gender specific.” Some members of the school board, however, prefer genders specified as distinctly as possible.
Board Chairman Trevor Tucker and Board member Cheryl Massaro did not weigh in. The proposal will return to the board at a workshop in April, pending more public feedback. Meanwhile, it appears that the board was heading for what amounts to a return to its pre-2010 dress code.
You may not remember this, but just 10 years ago, the Flagler County schools Code of Conduct did not even refer to it as a dress code, but as a uniform requirement: “You are required to wear a school uniform at all times while attending school or any school-sponsored activity during the school day,” the code read.
Pants had to be khaki, blue or black, with allowances for blue or black jeans. Pants not only had to have belt loops, but had to have belts, too. Shirts had to be “standard short or long sleeve polo style, oxford style, or button-up dress shirt with a collar.” Students could wear their school colors only on designated “spirit days,” but otherwise all shirts had to be solid colors, and those colors could only be white, black, or grey, plus “two additional standard school colors.”
The uniform policy had been then-School Board member John Fischer’s crusade (Fischer died last May). It was not based on evidence: even before the uniform policy went into effect, the dress code the district had in place was largely respected, and drawing few violations. But dated assumptions drove Fischer’s claims that uniforms would somehow improve conduct and possibly grades, and the board, after research that included a field trip to a school in Seminole County, went along in a split vote after an oddly bitter community and school board debate on the issue. (Trevor Tucker, now the board chairman, and Andy Dance, now a county commissioner, voted against the policy. Colleen Conklin, who remains on the board, voted for it.)
None of the assumed improvements happened. If anything, the policy, enacted in 2012, coincided with the end of Flagler County schools as an A-rated district, a distinction it had held for several years until then, back when Superintendent Bill Delbrugge could care less about uniforms: what mattered to him was creativity with a touch of devil-ma-care daring.
The drought would last seven years. But even by 2013, enforcement of the uniform policy was iffy. In 2015, students attempted a minor rebellion against the code and eventually succeeded in getting it somewhat relaxed. But there was an embarrassing incident in 2018–embarrassing to the district, humiliating and unnecessary to a student–when a mere dress code policy violation at Buddy Taylor Middle School led to an arrest, a Baker Act and threats of a school shooting.
The district regained its A by 2019, when Jim Tager was superintendent. Tager was not big on old-school assumptions, either. By then the uniform policy had largely been discarded or was only fitfully, reluctantly enforced, with many teachers simply ignoring it, though complaints continued about it its arbitrary enforcement and its time-wasting, since violations could pull students out of class. A renewed movement to revise what by then was merely called a “dress code” led to the reconsideration now before the School Board.