Advocate Editorial Board opinion: Dress code issue distracts from education

By the Advocate Editorial Board
May 31, 2014 at 12:31 a.m.

The teenage years are a complicated time. Children are transforming into young adults and are learning to be more independent. Unfortunately, that newfound independence also means they test the rules.

That is the case on Victoria Independent School District campuses when it comes to students adhering to the dress code, according to statements from VISD leaders and staff members in a May 19 Pro/Con article. The article examined the district's policy of sending dress code violators to in-school suspension (ISS). On one side, district employees emphasized the need for a clear code that everyone should follow and consistent consequences. On the other side were parents and students who said the consequences were too strict and wasted time students should be in the classroom.

This debate has strong points on either side, which gives us hope that a compromise is possible. On the one hand, the dress code is a necessary part of school life. The current code was introduced in 2010 when the new high schools were opened. "The board wrote the dress code to be clear and specific, not open to interpretation," Diane Boyett, VISD communications director, said. The dress code is posted on the district's website on the parent resource page, and teachers go over it in detail with students at the beginning of every year. But some students still push the envelope to see how much they can get away with.

The idea that any violation ends with the student in ISS is not true, Boyett said. "Teachers do have some degree of latitude in that." Some minor infractions can be given a warning, and others, such as a student who forgot to tuck in his or her shirt, can be fixed very quickly. ISS is usually reserved for those who are unable or unwilling to comply.

"No one wants to send students to the office," Boyett said, "but there are times when consequences are necessary."

We agree that rules are a necessary part of education and maintaining order in the classroom, and with those rules come the need to enforce them when broken. However, knowing that keeping students in class is one of the top priorities of VISD, perhaps the district would be open to considering some more creative consequences to fulfill both the need for enforcement and time in the classroom.

Other schools outside the area have been known to keep special replacement clothing available for students who violate the dress code. For instance, in 2002, a school in Easley, S.C., introduced a rule requiring students whose shirts violate the dress code to change into one with lettering identifying the student as a dress code violator. If students did not want to wear the shirt, they can call home to have their parents bring them a new one that fit requirements. That way, students were able to spend a minimal amount of time outside of class but still faced consequences for not following the rules.

This method could apply to a multitude of scenarios. School administrators could also have a system in which students who forgot a belt could pay a small fine and borrow a belt for the day. Or students could be given after-school detention for violating the rules. Whatever method the district chooses, there are plenty of ways to enforce the code without cutting into much-needed class time.

Creative consequences aside, we are glad to know that ISS is considered a punishment of last resort by the district. This controversy is also an opportunity for parents to revisit the dress code and ensure that their children have plenty of options that meet those requirements. If a family is having financial difficulty and cannot afford to purchase new clothing, the district has parent liaisons who can help find clothing for the students, Boyett said.

Children and teenagers are developing their identities and personalities, and that extends to finding their own sense of style. But when it comes to school, the focus should always be on education first. The dress code is clearly defined. It's time for everyone to follow it so teachers and students can focus on learning.

This editorial reflects the views of the Victoria Advocate's editorial board.



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