Bringing reason to dress code debate

Published 10:52 pm Friday, March 9, 2012

Caught up in a tempest of its own making, the Suffolk School Board on Thursday did the only reasonable thing left — it backed down on a proposal to change the school district’s dress code by prohibiting students from wearing outfits that were not what might be considered gender-appropriate.

In reality, only one member of the School Board, Thelma Hinton, was pushing for the new code to address gender-appropriate clothing, supposedly as a result of complaints from teachers at one school, King’s Fork High School, and apparently in response to the wardrobe choices of a single student who is no longer enrolled in Suffolk Public Schools.

Hinton’s decision to press for the new code on such thin evidence of a real problem was overshadowed in silliness only by her subsequent claims that her concern was for the cross-dressing kids who might be bullied by their peers. The story put Suffolk in the international spotlight in a way that could not possibly result in positive things for the city.

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On Thursday, after discussing the likelihood of a freedom-of-expression lawsuit if the new dress code addressed the matter of gender-appropriate clothing, a surprisingly divided School Board did the rational thing and approved a code that regulates the real problems of saggy pants, exposed bottoms and breasts and other wardrobe choices that distract from the educational atmosphere, while omitting any reference to boys in dresses or girls in slacks.

If it truly desires to do the right thing to improve the educational atmosphere as it is affected by clothing choices, the School Board should now monitor the efficacy of the new policy and readdress it

in a year or two, with an eye toward a discussion of school uniforms.

Existing studies on the effectiveness of school uniforms at reducing the problems inherent in educational settings are a mixed bag. Some have shown positive effects on things like attendance and even test scores. Others find no correlation between a policy requiring school uniforms and improved educational results.

But a discussion about school uniforms would at least be seen as a serious attempt to find answers to some of the problems the Suffolk school system faces, rather than making the system a laughingstock around the world.

If Suffolk schools have a problem with bullies — and there’s anecdotal evidence from teachers that they do — then the system should deal harshly with the bullies, quickly removing them from their regular schools and placing them at Turlington Woods or in some other alternative situation where they cannot terrorize students who are in school to learn.

Solutions to the problem of bullies should not put the onus of change on those who are bullied.