School board will consider dress code Thursday

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Bedford County Board of Education will hold its regular monthly meeting 7 p.m. Thursday in the Harris Middle School library -- but public interest in the meeting may be anything but regular.

That's because of agenda item III.D., labeled "School Dress Code."

The issue of school attire has been a hot item for months. School board members began discussing and debating it a year ago, but it didn't become a hot topic among the public until a draft standardized school attire (SSA) policy was released in October, with public hearings on the topic in November, December, January and last week.

Since that time, the school board has loosened a few aspects of the proposal and begin calling it a "dress code" instead of SSA.

The revised plan, released earlier this month, loosens some aspects of SSA -- applying it only to grades 6 and up, for example, and allowing plain, unadorned blue jeans as well as the khakis which had been required by the first draft. But it still prohibits T-shirts in favor of solid-colored, collared shirts.

Defenders of a strict dress code -- whether calling it SSA or something else -- say it promotes a calm, more professional atmosphere for learning and helps minimize class distinctions. Some rules are also said to have safety benefits, such as discouraging gang colors and making it harder to smuggle a weapon.

Opponents dispute those benefits and say the plan unfairly infringes on student and parent rights.

Because of the expected heavy interest in the issue, school board members will hold their meeting in the Harris library instead of their normal location, the conference room at the school system offices on Madison Street. The library wil make additional spectator seating available compared to the normal setting.

This will be a business meeting, however, not a public hearing, and there is nothing on the published agenda to indicate any formal opportunity for the public to speak Thursday night. School officials have solicited public input for months through the public hearings, by attending civic club and PTO meetings, and by publicizing their own individual contact information. On Thursday, it's the school board's turn to process that input, along with their own best judgment, and decide whether to approve, reject or revise the existing proposal.

Other items on Thursday night's agenda include an update on the school building program, the naming of the new elementary school to be built on Learning Way, and approval of the student delegation to attend SCOPE, a mock school board exercise.