Although a strict dress code policy has been enforced for the past three years in Sampson County Schools, a debate over whether that policy should be modified, giving more freedom to high school students, sparked emotions from some Board of Education members during a work session earlier this week.
Being proposed was a new high school policy that will allow shirts to go untucked in all county high schools, as long as those shirts don’t hang below a student’s crotch area. It was an issue which drew much discussion — and some ire — from the school board.
“As you all know, we have revisited this policy each year for the past three years,” pointed out superintendent Dr. Ethan Lenker before proposing the new policy. “We have had meetings with the high school principals and, just recently, met with them again over the past month to discuss this.”
Lenker noted that during those meetings the high school principals offered suggested policy changes in the dress code pertaining to tucked-in shirts and blouses.
“That is the biggest change. They want to know exactly how long a shirt must be before it has to be tucked in …,” the superintendent explained. “It’s not necessarily to change the code, but to put in a sort of alternative dress code for high school students.”
It was a suggestion, Lenker said, he recommended.
“We are seeing success with the code and we are seeing success with it at the middle schools,” he explained. “They came to us and said that we aren’t having the issues the high schools are having and they wanted to keep the middle schools the same. It is only the high school principals that want the change.”
After a few moments of silence, board chairman Telfair Simpson said since the dress code issue has been a hot topic, some discussion was needed before it was officially presented for a board vote.
“Basically, the policy is identical, except for how long the shirt hangs,” Lenker noted.
“So, all four of the high schools are in favor of tweaking it, is that right?” Simpson asked Lenker.
“From the meetings that we had with all the principals, this is what they suggested,” the superintendent answered. “According to the principals, and everything that we have heard at the high school level, it is a battle that they don’t think they can continue to fight (having students tucking their shirts). We know these kids can dress right and straight when they go to church or work;we don’t know why it is difficult to do when they go to school.”
Board member Glenn Tart said no matter what the principals suggested, the Board of Education needed to be consistent in its policies.
“If we are going to let the high schools get away with doing their own thing, you might as well let everyone else do what they want to do also,” he said flatly. “This is my personal opinion, but you have overweight kids, females, in general, who in this day and time have clothes that are manufactured and designed to be worn on the outside, I understand that. But how do you have schools that are close to one another and have those younger kids see the high schoolers get out of a vehicle in a parking lot, and they are overweight and can wear their clothes like they want to? That middle school kid sees that and he is overweight and they have to tuck their clothes in, what then? To me that doesn’t make any logic at all.”
Lenker said he understood what Tart was talking about, but stressed that it all boiled down to the maturity of the student.
But Tart wasn’t buying into it. “We spent a lot of time working with the communities trying to adopt our dress code and now we are basically snatching it out. To me, it’s the most signature part of the code. We are just gutting it and telling them, just go ahead and do what you want.”
Board member Sonya Powell reminded Tart that the proposed policy says the shirt must be tucked in if it hangs below the crotch area. “I mean, I have been in schools and I have seen kids with shirts on that come to the knee; if it goes that far, it has to be tucked in,” she said. “If it hangs just below the waist, this says it doesn’t have to be tucked in, there is a big difference there, isn’t there?”
“Not according to our original policy,” Tart responded. “The way I interpret the original is that everything is tucked in.”
While he said he understood what Tart was saying, Simpson stressed his feeling that the board had to be a little bit more flexible with the students on the high school level.
“We have to be flexible in that sense to determine what works,” he said. “If the middle schools don’t want to do it and they are happy with the code, but the high school is not … it is hard to throw a blanket over the whole thing. I understand what you are saying because I felt the same way initially, but the more I thought about it, if the high school wants to try this … if it doesn’t work we can go back and change it at any time. I see it as only a trial period.”
G.H. Wilson said at a recent board retreat with the principals he only noticed one principal who wasn’t enforcing the current policy.
“He wasn’t punishing the students,” Wilson said, referring to the administrator but not identifying them. “I am like Glenn, we have a lot of principals out there and if they can’t enforce it or they don’t want to enforce it, what can you do?”
“We have an administrator who defied our policy and basically made their own policy,” he said. “That administrator kind of went rogue and did their own thing and didn’t enforce our policy, and now what do we do as a board? We are going to change to meet that criteria. To me, that is not leadership. That is my whole issue, I am just one vote and it is my opinion that we stick to what we already have.”
Simpson said he disagreed.
“That (administrator) did not sway my mind at all,” he said. “If all four high schools want to try it, then we should let them. What I am hearing from the high school teachers is that they are the ones who are spending most of their time trying to enforce the dress code, more than spending time teaching …”
Tart interrupted, “Mr. Simpson, I have talked to the teachers, too, as well as administrators.”
“I understand that,” continued Simpson. “But if a child has been there the whole day and the dress code wasn’t enforced by the morning teachers, why should that teacher in the afternoon be the bad guy when it should have already been taken care of when that student first walked in the class in the morning? There is no consistency and maybe that is where the problem lies in the dress code.”
“Well, maybe if we had an administrator that had enough of a backbone to enforce those policies we wouldn’t have the problem,” Tart shot back. “If that is the case, then maybe we need to look at making some changes.”
After a few seconds of silence, Simpson said in the absence of board members Faye Gay and Dewain Sinclair, some time was needed before a vote was taken on the matter.
“This is obviously a sensitive topic. I think we need to really take some time to think about this before we make a decision,” he said.
“This is not about administrators, not about teachers, it is about students,” Powell said. “I know for a fact that students appreciate when adults listen to them a little bit and take into consideration what they might want to see done. I think that would be better. If we can take their opinions into consideration, I think that is just a small concession from us. If we can make them feel better about themselves and feel like they were involved in the discussion and their thoughts were significant.”
Despite the division, Simpson debated whether or not to include it on Monday night’s agenda. After minimal discussion the board members present agreed to include it on the agenda.
The vote will take place Monday night at 7:30 p.m. in the county auditorium.
To reach Doug Clark call 910-592-8137 ext. 123 or email to firstname.lastname@example.org.