Bedford County Board of Education has revised its working document on Standardized School Attire; the most notable changes, though not the only ones, would be allowing plain blue jeans and applying the dress code only to grades 6 and up.
The board has also tried to tweak the "tucked in" requirement.
The draft document would still prohibit T-shirts in favor of collared shirts (which could mean a golf-type shirt, a dress shirt, or even a turtleneck). In addition, excessively embellished or ornamented jeans, or distressed jeans, would not be allowed.
"These are standard jeans," said School Superintendent Ed Gray.
Shirts would have to be in solid colors. Blue or white shirts would be allowed at any school, and each school would designate three additional colors (presumably including the school colors). Small and non-offensive manufacturer's logos would be permitted on shirts, as would school logos of any size -- including things like approved school club or organization logos or even college logos.
The board is now referring to its proposal as a "student dress code" rather than by the term SSA.
The board had released its first draft proposal -- largely based on the rules adopted for this school year by Metro Nashville -- last October, and held public hearings on it in November, December and January. Those public hearings drew sharp criticism of SSA from students and parents.
One more public hearing is scheduled, for Feb. 12 at Harris Middle School, and then the board is scheduled to take a vote on SSA at its regular February meeting.
The board decided on most of the changes during its annual planning retreat last weekend at Bottle Hollow Lodge, and then made some additional tweaks during a special called meeting on Thursday. Those final changes will be incorporated into the document, and then once board members have had a chance to look at the final document it will be distributed to the public.
The working draft considered Thursday was drawn up after last week's retreat. It had been shown to principals and others within the school system, and apparently found its way into the public. Board member Dixie Parker had a constituent approach her with a copy of that revision before she herself had seen it.
The final public hearing will be focused on the new working draft policy, once it is released. School board members stressed that it's still not a final document and could be revised even farther if necessary.
Proponents of SSA, under whatever name, claim that it creates a more conducive atmosphere to education and has additional safety benefits.
"We're looking at something to create a stronger educational atmosphere," said board member Rev. Glenn Forsee.
Opponents say the benefits aren't borne out by scientific study and that the policy unfairly infringes on students and families.
SSA opponents say that the schools should do a better job of enforcing existing dress codes, but SSA supporters say that SSA -- a relatively short list of what can be worn -- is simpler and easier to enforce than a dress code, which often consists of a long and constantly-updated list of what can't be worn.
Indeed, efforts to loosen the original SSA proposal may end up complicating things.
The rule that shirts must be tucked into pants, intended to prevent distraction from the gap between low-riding pants and short tops, had drawn criticism from those who said that some overweight students or students with certain body shapes find it hard to keep their shirts tucked in. The board revised the rule slightly. Students would be able to wear a T-shirt, tucked in, as an inner layer and would then be able to wear a collared shirt, untucked, as an outer layer -- provided the un-tucked shirt had a squared-off hem and was designed to be worn untucked. Such untucked outer shirts could go no lower than 2 inches below the belt or no lower than the top of the pants pockets.
The board also allowed lightweight outerwear, as a result of complaints that some classrooms are uncomfortably cool. Heavy outerwear would still have to be put away and could not be worn to class. Hooded sweatshirts could be worn, but the hoods could not be worn on the head while the student is indoors.
School board chairman Barry Cooper opened the meeting by reading from a prepared statement in which he defended and explained the SSA study process at it has unfolded so far. He said that starting with Metro Nashville's policy as a basis for discussion made sense because it had already been thoroughly studied and vetted for legal issues. He said the school system has been listening to the public comments received so far during the process.
Board member Amy Martin said she's gotten very little feedback except from the public forums -- even though the names and contact information of school board members have been publicized during the SSA study process.
"Nobody calls, nobody e-mails," said Martin.
The next, and final, public hearing will be held 6 p.m. Feb. 12 at Harris Middle School. The original schedule had that meeting on Feb. 11, but it was pushed back a day a week or two ago because of some board members' schedule conflicts.
The only other agenda item at Thursday's called meeting was a resolution in favor of H.R. 648, a bill introduced in Congress by U.S. Rep. Don Young of Alaska which would revise some portions of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). The resolution states overall support for NCLB, but says some of its assessment procedures and funding mechanisms need to be tweaked.
The board passed the resolution.