Dress policy flap spurs change

Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff
09/14/2007

GUILFORD — Suzanne Carlson’s daughter, Kate, a senior at Guilford High School, left for school last Friday wearing a below-the-knee skirt and two layered tank tops.

So Carlson was surprised when Kate was sent home with an out-of-school suspension for violating the dress code. She brought her concerns to the Board of Education at its regular meeting this week, saying she thinks the punishment was too harsh.

“The bigger issue (than my daughter being sent home) is if we’re going to be enforcing the tighter dress code, the policy should be clearly articulated and written and handed out to the students, instead of just going on the P.A. system,” Carlson said in a phone interview. “I am all for a tighter dress code.”

According to school officials, 13 students were suspended Friday for dress-code violations, following several days of announcements from new Principal Rick Misenti about the beefed-up enforcement. Misenti said the policy to send students home was only intended for Friday.

“We won’t be sending kids home who violate the dress policy because we feel we have a handle on it now, and we painstakingly cautioned our students from the first day through the fourth day (of school) about wearing appropriate clothing and they did,” he said.

In the future, Misenti added, administrators will contact the parents of students wearing inappropriate clothing to ask them to bring a change of clothes.

“We’re interpreting the handbook the way it was written,” Misenti said. “I don’t think there was much being followed as it relates to the dress code in the past.”

Guilford High School’s student and parent handbook states that “students who are dressed inappropriately will not be allowed to attend class(es) until they either change into appropriate clothing or return home to change with parent notification.” Very short shorts and miniskirts are banned, as are midriff-baring, backless and strapless tops and transparent clothing, but the policy does not mention tank tops.

Board of Education members and Superintendent Thomas Forcella said at Monday’s meeting that they heard from several parents whose children had been sent home, as well as many supporting stricter enforcement of the school’s dress code.

Forcella said he thinks that most parents are in favor of putting more emphasis on suitable dress. “You don’t want kids missing school, but how do you create something that’s enforceable?” he asked.

Carlson said she thinks school administrators should “try to be creative” in determining the consequences for dress code violations.

“I am totally against out-of-school suspension for a misdemeanor like dress code,” she said. “Our district goal is to promote and achieve much more rigor in the academic level, and kicking our kids out of school is not really accomplishing that goal.”

Suspended students in Guilford can appeal their punishment directly to the principal, Misenti said. He added that he has discussed the dress code with students and parents and now the school is “putting it behind us.”

“It’s miniscule compared to the larger mission for this high school and this school system,” he said. “The kids are doing a wonderful job with the dress code, and it’s time to look at the bigger picture here.”

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