The dress code is one of the more nagging questions facing principals and the Flagler County School Board. The issue has come up several times since summer as the board reviewed its dress code policy but split over making it more specifically stringent.
“All teachers shall be on alert to give helpful, friendly guidance in these matters without embarrassment to the student,” the district’s very short policy on the matter reads. “Dress and personal appearance shall be reasonable as outlined in the individual school handbook.” The district has specified a couple of changes: straps must be at least three inches wide, and “cleavage area must be covered.” But the policy is up to principals’ discretion to administer, as each school sees fit. That’s in line with the district’s general policy of deferring to local, school-based control on most matters. But that approach, which fosters autonomy within schools, has pitfalls, as the same clothing a student wears in one school could be received differently in another.
An absence of hard data made it more difficult for the board to decide whether the policy in place is too strict or too loose. Last week, the district produced that hard data.
As the hierarchy of problems go in schools, the dress code doesn’t rate very high, making issues with the dress code more of a perceived problem than an actual problem. In all, the district had 177 referrals related to dress this year, out of a district population of 13,000, and well over half of those were at Flagler Palm Coast High School, which also has the highest enrollment in the district (2,400 students). It is almost a non-issue in elementary school, where the county’s five schools combined have just four referrals this year. Indian Trails Middle School had no referrals at all: the school doesn’t write up referrals unless the problem is chronic, which suggests that, when problems arise, mere warnings are doing the job.
Buddy Taylor Middle School, with an enrollment of more than 1,000, has written 40 dress-code related referrals—two more than at Matanzas High School. Flagler Palm Coast High School logged the highest number, at 94.
The high schools have clear enough rules against mini-skirts, tank tops (or anything resembling tank tops), low-riding pants or shorts, visible midriffs, flowing dresses, pants that reveal underwear or whatever may lurk beneath that underwear. Hats, bandanas and headwear are also prohibited inside the school unless it’s part of an athletic activity, and is worn during that activity.
That 10-page dress code is handed out to students at the beginning of the year. It’s a simple booklet of images showing the permissible and the impermissible: the preppy look is in, the hooligan look, the gang look, slutty look and the homeless look are out (even though the district has its share of homeless students who do not necessarily have access to varied wardrobes). Jeans are OK. Shorts that cut off a hint below the crotch are not: the shorts must be more neighborly with knees than nards. “Be aware, the code reads,” that staff does not want to have to comment on your clothing.”
In a report to the board last week, Katrina Townsend, the district’s student services director, said there were issues in administering the dress code in schools, beginning with inconsistency. The district’s policy and school-based codes leave a lot to subjectivity. But that’s by design, subjectivity and local discretion going hand in hand.
Another issue: male teachers are uncomfortable addressing girls’ inappropriate clothing. School board members discussed the matter inconclusively: how is a male teacher supposed to tell a girl that she’s wearing too revealing a top without, possibly, being accused of eying her cleavage? But where those concerns were noted, they were few, and limited to the secondary schools. Six schools reported no such concerns. The charter schools, too, where uniforms are required, reported no significant dress-code issues.
When Townsend asked for ideas from schools on where to go next with the dress code, uniforms again made the list, though it was by no means an indication of majority will: seven of the district’s 10 schools either like the current code or are comfortable with it. Dyed hair and facial piercings were also raised as something to review, even though “current practice is that neither are a discipline issue and are allowed as long as they are not disruptive nor a medical issue.”
When students do break the rules—the very few times they do when the dress code is an issue—they are immediately given the opportunity to change at the nurse’s office, or to call home and have clothing brought in for them. If the student continues to break the rule, lunch detention may follow, then a half-day in-school suspension, then a whole day in-school suspension, and so on. Those cases are rare to none.
In sum, the dress code in Flagler schools remains a hotter topic of discussion than it is a problem, though board members may yet be inclined to revive the divisive debate they had a few years ago over uniforms. John Fischer, the board’s newest member, will be seated this month. He favors uniforms, and replaces Evie Shellenberger, whose last vote on the matter was against uniforms. On the campaign trail, Fischer said uniforms would be one of his priorities. Sue Dickinson has favored them in the past, and Andy Dance leans more toward uniforms than against.
The last time the board haggled over the issue, in 2007, it split, initially voting for uniforms until an outcry resulted in a 3-2 vote rescinding the decision. The only member of that majority still on the board is Colleen Conklin. The board’s diminishing budget has limited its abilities to show the community that it can make changes that matter. The evidence is split over uniforms’ effectiveness (numbers can be cooked either way to show uniforms’ benefits or drawbacks), but as an immediate political issue, and with a new board member looking to show his effectiveness, the board might find the uniform matter difficult to resist. As in 2007, however, it’s likely to cause some controversy. And the district’s own research shows that, in the end, what and how students dress are not big concerns in schools.
In this economy, they better not even think about instituting uniforms unless they are going to hand out checks to pay for them as well.
Don’t get me wrong, I love uniforms. My kids wore them through 7th grade. But, now that they are older, and the same size clothes fit year after year, the clothes they have now will get them through high school with a few additions here and there. I could never afford a week’s worth of uniforms at this time.
To me, I don’t think the uniforms are really to address the dress code issues. If kids don’t have to worry about what trends are in right now and whether or not they “fit in”, more learning should take place in the schools. This is especially true for the older kids who get picked on if they are not wearing the right clothing. There is less social pressure if everyone looks the same. I know a lot of people will probably bash that statement saying that uniforms take away a person’s individuality, but they have plenty of other times and opportunities for that. I was in the military and personally loved not having to stress about what to wear every day. As far as parents spending more money, you would think that uniforms would be a little easier on the wallet. Just buy a few sets and be done with the school shopping.
Liana G says
Spot on PCadiron! School uniform is about less distractions and more focus on school work!
When my children wore uniform it cost me a lot less $$$$. And the time it took for them to get up and get dressed was so much quicker too! I miss those days!
I have seen many students dressed most inappropriately for school but are still on school premises. Teachers I spoke with say that they don’t usually enforce the dress code since it takes away valuable teaching time. Also, sending the student home would result in students missing work so they would prefer to have the students in school. Another said that if they were to send students home for not following dress code, almost half the school population would be sent home everyday.
In a classroom recently, I observed a young lady in short shorts sitting not very ladylike while a young man sitting across from her had a sheet of paper rolled into a tube looking straight at her, when she saw what he was doing, she simply made the view more noticeable for him. When I mentioned it to the teacher, she said that it was pretty mild compared to the other stuff that goes on!
@ Liana G, I don’t think for one minute you are telling the truth. And why didn’t you go to the principal and tell him this story.
How about the school board stop talking about this non issue and give my child the half hour of school time back that he lost last year. They had to cut back in teachers this year so the school day got shortened.
And uniforms aren’t going to make kids have more focus. School uniforms are a political move to take away the focus on the real problems.
I agree that uniforms would help with learning, discipline, and respect. If all wardrobe choices were equal, then the “different” kids would be less vulnerable to bullying. Teenagers spend a huge amount of time trying to fit in by choosing trendy clothing.
In today’s economy, this puts a burden on the parents, too.
On all sorts of free expression issues, I was perennially opposed to School Uniforms. Our young people need to be able to think for themselves (even when it comes to objectionable words in school plays) when deciding what to wear!
Then I was confronted with the issue of costs! In fact, it has been well-demonstrated, in our fashion-conscious world, that uniforms save parents a great deal of money, ending the incessant nagging of our kids who want the latest name-brand wardrobe they’ve seen on TV. The market in second-hand/hand-me-down uniforms only serves to make uniforms more than cost effective!
Nancy N. says
I was part of the parent coalition that opposed uniforms in 2007, and I will fight with every possible tool again if the issue comes up.
For a full history of the 2007 battle, and an overview of the many many reasons that uniforms do none of the things that proponents say they do, visit the website I set up called Stop Flagler Uniforms.
If you are a parent like Merrill who thinks that uniforms would be cheaper for your family, you really need to read the article What Do Uniforms Really Cost? which details the results of the only actual study I could find about the impact of school uniforms on family budgets. Basically, kids don’t want to live in uniforms 24/7, so they still want the “latest name-brand wardrobe they’ve seen on TV” to wear when they aren’t at school evenings and weekends. So parents end up having to buy regular clothes AND uniforms…leading to higher overall clothing costs. Uniforms don’t replace all your kids’ clothing. They only replace it 8 hours a day five days a week. Then they get tossed into the laundry basket the moment the kid walks through the door and the kid wants to wear “real” clothes.
I agree with you 100% Nancy N.
I dont know but im curious..since more schools started mandating uniforms have graduation rates gone up or down
Darren May says
Nancy N., parents only end up having to buy those extra expensive clothes if they cave in. I do not have to buy my children the Aeropostale or Ambercrombie and Fitch clothes for them to wear when outside of school. If I choose to buy those clothes I do so because it is within my budget, for school or not. My kids come home right now and immediately change out of their clothes they wore to school into something else so those do not get ruined, this argument is lame.
some guy says
i was all in favor of the uniform idea in our schools when it came out. Would it cost more or less $$? I do not know for all. it would cost me about the same if it was a basic uniforn like a basic polo shirt and pants. To the point of nancy n on the cost of “having to buy” both a basic uniform and the latest name brands who is in charge who is the parent. You do not need to bend to every whim of your kid be the parent.
Nancy N. says
I think the commenters arguing with me on my comment are missing the point of it. You’re right…parents only have to buy those expensive designer clothes if they cave in to what their kids want. That’s not my point.
Many parents who supported uniforms before (and who express support now) say that their kids want all these expensive designer clothes and that if the school mandated uniforms then they as parents wouldn’t feel that pressure because they could say “sorry, no, the school says you HAVE to wear this, no that.” My point is that kids will still pressure their parents for the expensive clothes because they want to wear them outside school, so anyone that thinks they can eliminate abercrombie & fitch from their budget in favor of Walmart polos “because the school board said so” is fooling themselves.
And in case you are thinking that I am a parent who can’t say no to my child’s expensive clothing whims…my only child is an autistic 7 year old who is completely oblivious to the brand names on her clothing. The big issue that I face with her clothing is that she has motor skills issues that make it impossible for her to use zippers and buttons by herself for toileting, and that she is so skinny that it is virtually impossible to buy her bottoms that fit that are long enough.
If school uniforms were to go into effect that featured the classic Khaki or Navy pants that most uniforms include, I would have two problems: I would have to pay $30/pair for pants that fit my daughter since I would have to go online to expensive stores that make slim sizes that only maybe fit her (would still probably be too short), and she would either have to have assistance dressing and undressing every time she went to the bathroom, or she would need an exemption from the uniform code (which would brand her to everyone within eyesight as “special” when everything about her educational plan is aimed at including her as much as possible with regular kids).
Nancy i dont think some are missing your point. First if we did have a uniform for school I am sure that their would be a provision for special needs kids on the uniform. As to the point on kids will still pressureing the parents for top of the line clothes yes that will still happen but it is still up to mom and dad to say yes or no on the items. Today to many moms and dads let their kids dictate the home .
Nancy N. says
“First if we did have a uniform for school I am sure that their would be a provision for special needs kids on the uniform.”
Yes, great, thanks. That would be a perfect solution. NOT. Because what we all want for our kids is to have the equivalent of a nice big neon sign placed on them by the very people who are supposed to be helping them learn to integrate with their peers that says “PICK ON ME. I AM DIFFERENT.”
My daughter spends part of her school day mixing with “regular” classes. She has a hard enough time blending with them because of her communication and other issues without her clothing making her stand out and making the other kids resent her because she can wear “normal” clothing and they can’t.
I know from personal experience that uniforms absolutely DO NOT have all the pie in the sky benefits that proponents claim they do. So I really do not want to see my child get victimized in a pointless experiment to make some people look like they are doing something to fix a situation in the schools that needs to be fixed with something significantly more substantial than nitpicking about clothing. If only the solution were that simple.
Doug Chozianin says
PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON —
Along with many other legislators, educators, and parents — President Clinton believes that uniforms can increase student safety and enhance the learning environment in our nation’s schools. “Those in favor of school uniform policies say that uniforms decrease violent behavior caused by disputes over expensive clothing, minimize overt symbols of gang activity, reduce classroom distractions, improve student behavior and attitudes toward learning, and help school officials identify those who don’t belong on school property. In addition, they say, uniforms improve school spirit and enhance the school’s image within the community. ”
SCHOOL UNIFORM POLICIES – EMPIRICAL RESULTS:
Many of President Clinton’s assumptions have been strengthened by reports from Long Beach, California, the first school district in the nation to institute a mandatory uniform policy. School officials there say that, since 1994, when uniforms were first required, school crime has DECREASED by 76 percent, assaults committed on school property have DROPPED by 85 percent, incidents of school vandalism have DECREASED from more than 1,400 to less than 100 a year, and average attendance has reachEed an ALL-TIME HIGH nearly 95 percent.
Based largely on those reports, other school districts have begun to follow Long Beach’s lead. In Dade County Florida, 90 of the county’s 300 schools have mandatory school uniform policies and another 90 recently voted to adopt them. In San Antonio, Texas, all of the city’s 60,000 students will be required to wear school uniforms beginning next fall. In Houston, Texas, nearly 70 percent of schools have adopted a mandatory uniform or dress code policy. In addition, individual schools with mandatory uniform policies can be found in Seattle, Baltimore, Kansas City, Memphis, and many other U.S. cities and towns. At least 10 states have enacted legislation enabling individual schools or school districts to draft school uniform policies and even more are considering such legislation.
DRESSED FOR SUCCESS?
Despite those concerns, protests, and unanswered questions, the trend of requiring school uniforms appears to be growing. Many educators seem to agree with New York school board president William Thompson Jr. who, while admitting “It isn’t going to replace good teaching, good principals, small classrooms, or any one of dozens of things,” says “The policy creates a better educational climate.” Simply put, with or without more significant changes, many believe that student attire affects students’ attitudes and that school uniforms are the best way to encourage students to do their best work.
And, it may not end there. If a recent New York Post article has anything to say about it, uniforms won’t be an issue that’s just for students anymore. The article suggests that it may be time to consider school uniforms for teachers as well!
I VOTE FOR SCHOOL UNIFORMS. (It works in the millitary.)
I dont think that The students of buddy taylor middle… Should wear uniforms Simply because The students want to show individuality! “The four cornerstones of character on which the structure of this nation was built are: Initiative, Imagination, Individuality and Independence” Why would you Make the children soon to be adults wear uniforms it is Ridiculous! The kids Hate the uniforms. Uniforms Should not be allowed how would the kids show their style! They simply cant if they wear uniforms! I am AGAINST UNIFORMS!!