Daily interactions with students and training has revealed to principals a need to change the status quo with dress code, but not everybody is on board with the idea.
The school board's policy committee has tabled action on a policy change to give themselves and administrators a chance to work on suggested amendments.
Independence High Principal Chasity Collier represented Tangipahoa Parish School System’s principals at the board's policy committee meeting Tuesday to explain why they want to revise the district’s strict stance on students’ hair and piercings.
“We want to do things a little differently because what we’ve been doing hasn’t yielded a very good product,” she said. “In order to do that, you have to start with the policy and then the policy and your practice mesh.”
“We’re in the trenches everyday, and we’ve come to realize a lot of time we’re focusing on a lot of things in school that don’t improve test scores,” she said.
Some school board members pointed out that the dress code is about more than just a policy. It's about students learning to follow the rules.
The revised policy would change dress code regulations to let any students, regardless of gender, wear piercings in their ears. Students in PreK-6th grade would be allowed only to wear studs. Students would be free to wear their hairstyle and facial hair any way they want as long as it does not distract from learning or affect safety. Some outer garment and face covering changes were also made.
“I feel today is going to be monumental for the future that by coming in and breaking tradition, we’re opening the door – to me – that is a lot bigger than what we’re talking about today,” said board member Sandra Bailey-Simmons.
Principal Collier said Discipline Revolution Project’s training taught principals that in order to make changes, policies have to be changed. Trust Based Relational Intervention Training taught them to give choices in some things in order to establish a relationship to improve interactions.
“In order to move forward with students and have less negative interactions, you have to establish wins or yeses with them,” Collier said. “You have to establish a relationship with them.”
Giving students “yeses” establishes a relationship with them for when it comes time to tell them “no.” Dress code does not impact their education, so nose rings, facial hair and boys with earrings are ways administration can give students some “yeses” without their education being affected, she said.
Collier asked the board to let them have leverage with their students by loosening the dress code and show the community they are focusing on what really matters – students' test scores.
“Am I really going to send them out of the classroom to go to in-school suspension or send them home when they already missed out on all this other instruction?” she asked.
Board member Sandra Bailey-Simmons said she cannot see how long hair or long beards would improve students' education or future job opportunities. She believes children learn from an early age that they are not going to have a choice with everything, especially with a job.
“For me, we’re training them for life that you are not going to have a choice and need to obey the rules on this system,” she said. “...For me, what we’re training them for is every institution has rules and regulations...The point is you have to follow the rules and regulations whatever they are.”
Board member Brett Duncan said the school board has made adjustments over the years and the current proposal goes to extremes. He is concerned making these changes will teach young people that if they do not think a rule is fair, they can just protest or take to the streets.
“Part of developing these students to be grownups is the need for them to understand submitting to authority, and if there's an issue with submitting to authority, we need to be addressing that to some extent,” he said.
Board member Robin Abrams said the principals feel there are “bigger fish to fry” than earrings and long hair, as long as it does not interfere.
A school dress code ends after high school, she noted.
“When they go off to college, most college students go to school in their PJs with long hair, and colleges don’t mandate these things,” she said. “We have to give these students a little leeway to be themselves…. We’re dictating to them that they can’t be themselves.”
“Personal opinions aside, I feel that this [school] is a student’s job; we are training them to be adults,” board member Rose Dominguez said. “If we were to vote to do that, it [hair] should be neat and trimmed. It's very unsanitary and inappropriate for high school kids. If we vote for it, it should not be body earrings.”
Board President Tom Tolar said supporting these amendments was a stretch to his personal preferences, but his personal decision is not what he is trying to put into policy.
“What I want to put into policy, what I want to vote on in policy is what the principals that are on the front lines dealing with these write-ups...,” he said.
The standard should be the administrators having the ability to control their campuses and determine what distracts students from learning, he said.
Policy changes came about as a result of principals’ survey on the school code of conduct book. A team of stakeholders formed to share information gathered from the survey and was vetted by the superintendent.