The first in a series of planned public forums on Standardized School Attire (SSA) will be held Thursday at 5:45 p.m. at Liberty School, prior to Thursday night's regular monthly meeting of Bedford County Board of Education.
But at least one citizen is angry about the timing, claiming that -- because Liberty's basketball team has an away game that night -- participation will be limited.
SSA is more than a dress code but less than a uniform. Exact details vary from school system to school system, but the plan currently under discussion by Bedford County officials would prohibit T-shirts and blue jeans. It would allow only blue, black or khaki-colored pants or skirts, worn at the waist, and worn with a belt if the pants or skirt have belt loops. Shirts would have to have a collar and would have to be a solid color -- black, white or one of several other colors chosen by each school (such as the official school colors).
Proponents of SSA claim it improves the overall atmosphere and attitude of a school, helps prepare students to maintain a professional appearance in their future careers, and helps to de-emphasize (though not eliminate) class differences which can be a basis for conflict. Opponents say it needlessly restricts student self-expression and that scientific studies don't confirm its supposed benefits.
There are also differences of opinion on the financial impact of SSA. Opponents complain that parents will be forced to buy a brand new wardrobe for their children, while supporters say that SSA-compliant clothing can be found far more cheaply than the clothing that many children wear to impress their classmates. Bedford County's proposal calls for networking with charities, churches and the community to build up a "clothes closet" at each school so that items can be given to students who need them or loaned to students who arrive at school in violation.
Metro Nashville Public Schools adopted SSA beginning with this academic year, and the draft policy which Bedford County released as a basis for discussion is largely based on Nashville's approach.
After soliciting public input, the board hopes to adjust the proposal if necessary and vote on it at its February meeting. The November, December and January school board meetings will all be held at schools, presumably in order to facilitate parental attendance and input.
If adopted, the plan would take effect in the 2008-2009 school year.
But Mary Hasty Jones, in a letter to the editor submitted too late for inclusion in Sunday's newspaper, complained about the timing of the forum at Liberty, pointing out the conflict with the school's basketball game at Moore County.
"It seems to me if the school board was wanting parental input, they would not schedule a meeting at a school where a big majority of the parents will not be there," wrote Jones.
Suzanne Hicks, who serves as secretary to the school board and has been involved in gathering information on SSA, wrote in an e-mail to the Times-Gazette that the timing was coincidental -- originally, the school board planned to meet at Cascade this month, but a drama department activity there posed a conflict with using the school, so the meeting was moved to Liberty instead. Plans are to hold additional meetings at Community, Cascade and in Shelbyville.
"[S]ince they are public meetings, anyone can come -- it really doesn't matter the location," wrote Hicks.
School system offices were closed today for the observance of the Veterans Day holiday.
Here are highlights of the proposed SSA policy, which is still a draft and may be revised based on public input between now and February:
* It would apply to all ages of students. The policy would not specifically apply to teachers or other school employees, although teachers would be encouraged to dress professionally in order to set an example for student compliance.
* Students would have to wear navy blue, black or khaki-colored pants, shorts, capri pants, skirts, skorts or jumpers. No blue jeans would be allowed.
* Students would have to wear solid-colored shirts with collars -- which could include polo, button-down or turtleneck styles. White or navy blue shirts would be allowed anywhere in the school system, but each school would be able to designate additional colors, which would normally include that school's official school colors (blue and gold at Central High School, orange and black at Cascade, purple and gold at Community and so on). The only variable which has been left blank in the draft policy is how many additional colors each school would be allowed. Nashville allows four additional colors per school.
* Students would have to wear clothing "of appropriate size," meaning no more than one size smaller or larger than the student's actual clothing size. Pants or skirts must fit at the waist and not sag.
* Shirts must be tucked in to pants or skirts.
* No logos or trademarks larger than two inches square will be allowed on clothing. School logos or mascots are permitted.
* Belts would be required if the pants or skirt feature belt loops. Pants or skirts with elastic waistbands and no belt loops could be worn at the waist without a belt.
* The only outerwear which could be worn to class would be blazers, suit jackets, vests, sweaters or cardigans. They would have the same color restrictions that apply to shirts or blouses and would have to be worn over an approved shirt.
* Each school would be allowed up to 10 days a year to waive the dress code for special events, such as school spirit week or homecoming. In addition, principals could authorize occasional variations for special groups of students, such as allowing athletes to wear jerseys over their shirts on game day or allowing clubs to wear club-related or school-related T-shirts over their approved SSA shirt.
* Jeans, torn or see-through clothing would be prohibited.
* The school system would coordinate with schools, businesses, religious and community organizations to collect donated SSA-compliant clothing. This clothing could be given to needy families and / or kept at schools to be loaned out in case of SSA violations.
* Families could request exceptions to SSA rules for religious, medical or disability reasons.
On their first offense, students who violate SSA would be allowed to correct the situation and return to class. Correction could include changing into clothes loaned by the school as noted above.
On the second offense, students who violate SSA would be subject to a day of in-school suspension.
On the third offense, students would have a day of in-school suspension plus an overnight or provisional suspension, although the overnight / provisional suspension could be waived if parents agree to a meet with a school administrator to discuss the problem.
Repeated offenses beyond three would be treated as disruptive behavior and defiance of school authority and treated under the existing disciplinary rules.
The school board members are Dixie Parker, District 1; Ron Adcock, District 2; Amy Martin, District 3; Diane Neeley, District 4; Barry Cooper, chairman, District 5; Mary Jo Johnson, District 6; Jerry Naron, District 7; Leonard Singleton, District 8; and Glen Forsee, District 9. The school system central offices can be reached at 684-3284 for more information.