No more T-shirts: Dress code begins

Tuesday, July 1, 2008
Dale Martin, of Celebration 2000, displays a shirt that is in compliance with the new dress code passed by the Bedford County Board of Education last February. (T-G Photo by Sadie Fowler)

Some are for it, some are against it, and some just don't care. But no matter what your opinion is, Aug. 8 is just around the corner, and that means one thing: School Dress Code.

"I really don't like the idea of it at all," said Kenny Smith, 15, a student at Shelbyville Central High School. "But it seems kind of pointless to me because all they're really doing is making us change shirts."

Last February, the Bedford County Board of Education voted unanimously to pass a school dress code, which goes into effect at the beginning of the 2008 school year, for grades 6-12.

The dress code passed by the board had been loosened up considerably compared to earlier discussions about the possibility of adopting standard school attire or a school uniform, which board members initially considered.

Various meetings and forums were held, allowing hundreds of parents to discuss the divisive topic and voice their opinions, which led to the passing of the third and final draft of the dress code. The final draft requires kids to wear collared shirts, and each school has approved five colors from which kids may choose, among other requirements.

"The dress code will provide a better work ethic and environment, and less distraction," said Ed Gray, the superintendent of Bedford County schools, who feels the dress code really isn't that restrictive. "That's what the board wanted, a better atmosphere for learning."

Gray and the school board had been thinking about the school uniform and/or dress code issue for about two years prior to actually passing it, he said. They looked at several other school districts which had enforced it, including site visits to Cleveland (Tenn.) High School, Chattanooga Central High School, and three different schools in Nashville: Glencliff Elementary, Glencliff High and Wright Middle.

The dress code, which may be viewed in its entirety at t-g.com/files/ssa-feb.doc, prohibits embellished jeans, cargo pants, logos any larger than two inches (there is no size restriction of school logos), leisure or athletic pants or shorts, flip flops and excessively baggy clothing, among other things.

The dress code does state that "Schools will provide reasonable accommodation to students whose religious beliefs, medical condition or disability requires special clothing."

When the dress code passed, hundreds of people posted comments on the Times-Gazette web site both for and against the policy. Still, however, more than four months later, and as the school year draws near, some children are not on board with the new policy.

"It's cost me my time to go out and look for polo shirts," said Smith, who expressed his opinions of the code while hanging out with friends at Shelbyville Recreation Center last week. Smith said finding shirts without writing or large logos on them has been an annoyance for him.

"I pretty much have to get a whole new wardrobe," said Kristin Hill, 14, who noted most of her jeans do not meet the requirements of the dress code. "And I love my flip flops, but I won't be able to wear them."

Hill said while she's not excited about the dress code, her parents are happy about it because it prohibits baggy or sagging clothing (appropriate sizes are defined as being of proportional size to the wearer, no more than one size smaller or larger).

"I'm a big boy," said Smith, expressing his discomfort with that part of the code, stating he doesn't like the idea of having to tuck in his shirts. The code requires shirts to be tucked in, unless it has a squared-off tail that "reaches no more than six inches below the belt." Those types of shirts may be left out, provided a tucked in undershirt is worn underneath.

Otherwise, Smith said he doesn't really see the dress code as being all that restrictive, and said his parents' rules concerning his wardrobe weren't all that different than the dress code itself.

While Smith said he has had to go a little further, stating that he will purchase his shirts from Old Navy or Kohl's in Murfreesboro, Gray said there are several local stores at which parents can find affordable clothes that are in compliance.

In Shelbyville, Celebration 2000 is one store that's preparing for an influx of shoppers as the school year draws near.

"We're gearing up for August," said Dale Martin, a sales representative at the store. "We're waiting to see what the kids are going to want."

Celebration 2000, located on Madison Street, has approved shirts, hoodies and mock turtlenecks available in all of the school colors, which can be custom ordered. Martin said they plan on having plenty more of the shirts in stock in the weeks to come.

Martin said plain golf shirts are selling for $14 and embroidered shirts cost $17. Hoodies cost about $25.

Hill, Smith and a handful of their friends said they think it will take some time for high school kids to get used to the dress code.

The school system, however, has come up with specific guidelines in handling any violations of the new code.

These violations are specifically outlined in the dress code policy, but range from a visit to the school office, where the school may issue clothing that corrects the specific problem for that day, to out-of-school suspension, the most extreme punishment, which may be administered to subsequent or repeated violators.

"We will deal with anything that interferes with the educational process," said Gray. "Our five principals will deal with this. There will be consistency within the schools and also from school to school."

Approved School Colors

All of the schools, Cascade, Shelbyville Central, Community, Harris Middle and Liberty, are all permitted to wear shirts in the following colors: white, gray, blue (any shade) and red/pink.

Other colors approved for individual schools include:

* Cascade -- black

* Central -- yellow (any shade)

* Community -- yellow (any shade)

* Harris Middle -- yellow (any shade)

* Liberty -- green (any shade)