How long should a student’s blouse be?
That question created considerable debate at the Pasco County School Board’s Sept. 11 meeting.
School board member Colleen Beaudoin urged her colleagues to remove language from the district’s dress code that requires a blouse “extend to the waist.”
She explained: “I, like my peers, would like to see students dress professionally and appropriately for school, but I don’t think it is a big enough problem in our schools that this be mandated in policy.”
She continued: “This is a parental right and responsibility, and the new policy is an intrusion on the parents’ decision-making.
“There are community norms in which we function, and not all tops come to the waist. In our community, at restaurants, at stores, and libraries, this clothing is socially acceptable.
“Parents have the right to choose and monitor what their students wear,” she added.
Additionally, she noted: “There are bigger and more important issues to focus on, and dress code is not a barrier to education. I think we should be focusing on things that truly impact instruction, and I know of no research that shows that what a student wears to school negatively impacts academic performance.
“We want kids in class and engaged in learning, and not being removed from class because of an arbitrary dress code.”
She also delineated more reasons for her stance, including:
- “Enforcing it is problematic. We’ve seen that. Teachers do not feel comfortable, especially male teachers, addressing this issue.
- “It pulls our administrators — who are so overworked already from the important work that they need to be doing, like improving student achievement; returning parent phone calls and emails; coaching teachers; doing walk-throughs; and addressing the serious behavior disruptions that occur.
- “We have not been able to define ‘to the waist.’ We couldn’t even all agree on what that meant, or whether their ‘arms are up or down,’ or, ‘What happens when a student has a shoulder bag, or a backpack, and it pulls at their shirt.’
School board member Al Hernandez said he’s conflicted by the policy.
“When I talked to some of the administrators and some of the teachers, I tend to agree with you,” he told Beaudoin.
He said he’s conflicted because schools are an environment where “we need to, at a minimum, be respectful.”
But he added: “Having a policy in place that creates more controversy, probably should not be in place.”
He also agreed with Beaudoin’s point that the issue really should be a family matter.
“Dress code starts at home. That is a parent decision. The more I think about it, the more I believe that it is a parent’s responsibility to dictate the dress code,” Hernandez said.
School board member Alison Crumbley said she agrees with Hernandez’s point that “policy shouldn’t create problems, it should solve them.”
She told Beaudoin “Your point about some of the male teachers are uncomfortable (enforcing the current code) — that’s a good one. I hadn’t thought about that.”
Crumbley said she’s also bothered by the fact that the policy affects girls, but not boys.
“To me, we have bigger fish that we should be frying. We should be talking about raising our third grade reading scores, and our math scores. These are, to me, the things that we should be focused on right now,” Crumbley added.
But school board member Cynthia Armstrong and board chairwoman Megan Harding both support the policy the way it is.
Armstrong put it this way: “We have a dress code. We have items on the dress code, with the idea that they’re going to come looking professional, looking ready to learn, and how a student dresses might not affect their learning but could possibly affect the learning of the students around them because they’re distracted.
“We say that we’re preparing them for college, career and life. Career? You don’t get to come wearing just whatever you want. There’s an expected dress code for your job. To me, dressing professionally or a way that shows that you’re ready to come and learn, and present yourself in the best foot forward, falls right in line with preparing them for careers and for life.
“So, I do think we need to set a standard.”
Armstrong said she received positive feedback for her position on the issue.
“I talked to some principals, also. I talked to some community people. Quite a few community people came up and said, ‘I totally agree with what you are advocating. I talked to some principals that said, ‘Amazing, the students’ shirts have gotten longer. They managed to find blouses that fall below the waist. So, there’s no problem on that.”
She told her colleagues if they want to remove the verbiage relating to the length of blouses, “we might as well wipe out the rest of the dress code.”
Hernandez asked, “At the end of the day, what are we trying to solve for?
“We’re adding expenses. Whether we like it or not, what we’re asking really, is for some of those parents to buy new clothes. It’s costly.”
He also disagreed with Armstrong’s assertion: “I’m not sure that by removing that line really creates removing the entire policy,” he said.
Pasco Schools Superintendent Kurt Browning said he has maintained all along that the board sets policy and that his staff will enforce it. However, he noted, he doesn’t believe this issue goes to the heart of academics. He also told the board a public hearing will be needed on the change because it is a substantive change to board policy.
A public hearing on the issue is set for Oct. 3, with a final vote scheduled for Oct. 17.
Published September 27, 2023