That is one of many clarifications agreed on by school board members and administrators, who have created a standard dress code for kindergarten through sixth grades and another for seventh through 12th grades.
The school system has always had a general student dress code in its district-wide policy manual, which individual schools added to or embellished. Parents last year began complaining that enforcement was arbitrary and irregular, especially at the high school, leading to a controversy over whether the school system should require a strict khaki-and-polo code like Waterbury’s.
The debate ended, at least for now, last month when policy committee Chairman Scott Slauson presented the new codes to the school board. As they are clarifications, and not revisions, to the policy manual, the board did not have to vote on the rules, which will be added to the new student handbooks and go into effect next year, Slauson said.
The dress codes were formulated with school principals and Superintendent of Schools John Tindall-Gibson after forums with teachers, parents and students, Slauson said. Administrators have said the standardized codes formalize many rules that have been enforced at schools, although they were not district-wide policy.
Teachers will be briefed on the new guidelines and told to enforce the dress code in a standard manner from student to student and class to class, Slauson said.
“You can’t catch all the students all the time doing everything, sort of like someone speeding down the road,” Slauson said.
The dress codes do not mention yoga pants, one point of contention, but do prohibit pajama bottoms and leggings that substitute for pants.
Clothing containing offensive and disruptive writing or pictures has always been prohibited, along with logos encouraging drug use. The new dress codes specify that clothing that “prints vulgarities, promotes illegal activity, displays pictures, words or links to websites that advertise or imply drugs, alcohol or weapons, or displays discriminatory words or gestures” is prohibited.
Until seventh grade, students are no longer allowed to wear flip-flops for safety reasons, Slauson said. Students in those grade levels run around at recess and are more likely to be injured in flip-flops, he said.
The school board determined it could not forbid elementary and intermediate students from wearing make-up, but the new dress code asks them to refrain from doing so, because reapplying it in class distracts students and teachers.
Dress code violators can be removed from class until parents arrive with more appropriate clothing. The dress code for the upper grades says students might be offered cover-up clothing, and if they refuse, they will receive in-school suspension for the rest of the day.
School board members said they wanted the guidelines to be consistently enforced, echoing concerns raised by students and parents that some students were being singled out and some teachers were sending students to the office while others were not.
Students will have to learn to deal with subjective enforcement as part of life, Mayor Robert Mezzo said.
“Sometimes they might have three different bosses and one of them might be nice and the other one might be mean,” Mezzo said. “If kids can’t handle it when they’re 14, they’re not going to handle it when they’re 26.”