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School board tweaks student, staff dress codes

Leggings OK with tops that reach mid-thigh

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SMITHFIELD — Consistency was a word oft repeated June 11 as the Johnston County Board of Education discussed new student and staff dress policies its members unanimously approved.

“In student dress and appearance, we can modify this policy and do whatever we want to,” said board member Todd Sutton. “But I think the key thing is that we make sure everything our staff does across the county is consistent with this policy.”

Sutton said he frequently hears about inconsistencies in dress code enforcement.

“I want to put a charge to Dr. (Superintendent Ross) Renfrow and his staff to make sure it is consistent across the board for every student in our school system,” said Sutton. “Because the worst thing is to hear ‘So and so at another school can wear this, but I can’t wear this.’”

School board member Teresa Grant echoed Sutton’s sentiments.

“If we’re not going to ensure consistency across the district, then we don’t need to have the policies,” said Grant. “It causes frustration and an aggravation when something is happening in one school and not another. Consistency is key for both policies.”

The school board policy states, “The Johnston County Board of Education respects a student’s right to choose his or her style of dress or appearance. However, students are expected to adhere to standards of cleanliness and dress that are compatible with the requirement of a good school environment.”

Under the previous policy, students were asked to “remove the inappropriate item and the parents/guardians will be notified” for a first offense.

A second violation would result in “short-term suspension from the Johnston County Public School System for up to three days.”

Three or more violations would require short-term suspension for up to 10 days. Principals have the authority to recommend long-term suspension for the remainder of the school year, based on “the principal’s findings of aggravated circumstances.”

Under the revised policy, the second and third or more violation statements were deleted and replaced with “Repeated violations may result in consequences including parent contact and other disciplinary actions as described in Policy 4200.”

The only specific student policy change was with regard to leggings. The new policy states, “Leggings should be worn with a tunic/top that reaches at least the mid-thigh.”

“We got input from all the principals and our task was to compromise and, hopefully, that will give them a policy to which all can adhere,” said Vice Chairman Peggy Smith. “We really do try to listen to our stakeholders and it was important to hear their positions.”

“Also, we heard from parents and teachers who have to enforce theses policies that we use common sense,” added board member Terri Sessoms.” That we not feel that we have to send a kindergartener home because she wore spaghetti straps that day, but that we use some common sense.”

“We read through every comment and we were provided and we actually considered having elementary, middle and high school dress codes,” said board member Tracie Zukowski. “But I think the reality of it is when we focus on the portrait of a graduate, what they’re wearing when they graduate is what we start instilling in kindergarten.”

On the staff dress and appearance policy, the proposed change is “Staff dress on non-student days and special occasions are at the discretion of the principal.”

The staff policy, like the student policy, also addressed leggings: “Leggings should be worn with a tunic/top that reaches at least the mid-thigh.”

Also included was a safety item: “Footwear that limits employees’ ability to maintain a safe environment and prevent injury” are not permitted.

“I just wanted to state one thing — that we marked through flip-flops,” said Zukowski. “ So, teachers, as long as they’re safe and can prevent injuries, can wear their flip-flops.”