Instituting a strict dress code or uniforms in a public school creates a fine line between helping eliminate distractions in a learning environment and hindering self-expression.
Some parents in Lac du Flambeau (LdF) have demonstrated their concern that the new dress code at the elementary school has gone too far.
On July 14, the LdF school board passed a new dress code limiting the students' wardrobe choices to a few colors in order to help diffuse distractions in the classroom, but more importantly to try and stifle a growing gang influence.
The school board passed the new code more than a month before school began and parent Roberta Schuman said that was one of her biggest problems.
"You [the board] didn't even take the parents' vote into account, there was no vote from us," she said. "Only giving us a month to get the clothes was not OK because some parents already bought school clothes and don't have money to be going and getting more."
Roberta and her husband, Randy, presented their case at a recent board meeting and felt their voices fell on deaf ears.
"We have a petition here with about 230 signatures from parents and community members who don't want this," she said.
Though it seemed the parents weren't considered in the decision, the board and principal Ron Grams said they gave parents every opportunity to give provide comments.
"When we were considering this we had so many meetings and I held two meetings every day for a week and got maybe 10 parents who showed up," Grams said. "We sent out letters to every parent and made phone calls to everyone on our calling list with little response."
Duane DeVerney attended one of the information sessions with Grams and said he tried to get other parents to attend and learn about it before the board made its decision.
"I've told so many parents to come and talk about it but they just don't," he said. "A lot of them really didn't understand the point of the dress code but as soon as I explained it they agreed with it."
Grams said the decision to take certain colors out of the students' wardrobe was not only to make the "haves" and the "have-nots" more equal, but to help rectify a larger community gang problem.
"It may seem like our students are too young to be involved in gangs but the truth is this is where it starts, this is where they're learning it," Grams said.
Grams said the idea of a dress code really started when the tribe invited Chris Cuestas, a consultant for the National Violence Prevention Resource Center and an expert in tribal gang dynamics and reduction, to come in and assess the gang activity in Lac du Flambeau.
Though his assessment is an ongoing project for at least the next year, he has determined there is a moderate level of gang activity in the area, and one of his suggestions to begin to deal with the issue is to try and stop it while the kids are young.
"Gangs use the kids need for popularity and peer acceptance as their draw and the gang's goal is immediate recognition, which is one reason for the colors," Cuestas said.
"So even though the young kids may not be working in the gang, if they're emulating what their brothers or parents are doing, we need to give them a filter to decide what's true and what's not."
Cuestas said there is not a single tribe he knows of that doesn't have a gang problem and usually the tribe comes for his help following a tragedy.
He said Lac du Flambeau is being very proactive in its approach because the tribe is trying to stop it before something major happens.
"I worked on three cases within a 10-year period where students were shot based on the color of their shirt, and they weren't even gang members," he said. "You may think it's just a color but by putting this dress code in, you are saving lives, I will promise you that."
Mike Christensen was chosen as a spokesperson for members of the community against the dress code because he said parents and teachers are too afraid to speak out against it.
"They are silently fighting back but everybody's afraid to speak," he said. "This is strictly a tribal issue not a school issue. It breaks my heart because it's eroding our culture."
Christensen said elders in the community are upset because they believe it is taking them back to the days when they were in boarding schools and were stripped of their individuality.
Grams said it is actually the gang activity that is stripping the community of it's culture - not the dress code.
"It's the gangs that are turning the culture into a negative light," he said. "Here we have powwows, try to incorporate the language and we're trying to recruit Native American teachers and keep the gang influence out of our school."
Cuestas said the Supreme Court has ruled that schools must provide a safe learning environment and can take action to eliminate the risk, but do not have a specific procedure schools have to follow.
"I know without a doubt there is a gang risk here and if the school doesn't do something now to stop this they could be held liable," he said. "And it'll be those people who were against change that will be the first to blame the school for not doing anything. I've seen it."
Now that school has been in session for a few weeks, Grams said the overwhelming response has been positive and students are in a high-90 percent of compliance.
Grams said at the board has loosened the requirements by allowing black jeans and pants because they realize the position parents are in and at this point it's a transition period to give parents time to get the clothes by the end of the first quarter.
"People really seem to like the look of the shirts and the logo, which instills the pride in the school we want and it puts us into a more elite status," he said.
"It just eliminates that need to be better than others and puts everyone on equal footing so their talents can show through."
The dress code is not intended to fix the gang problem but Cuestas and Grams, in addition to members of the tribal council, agree this is the first step to correcting the problem.
"We have to neutralize the school because it is a choke point for the community," Cuestas said. "We need to offset the negative influences and educate parents so we can get the school back to being an educational environment not a social environment."
Monica Baltich may be
reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted: Saturday, November 24, 2012
Article comment by:
I think the dress code is the right thing to do. I go to Lac Du Flambeau Public School and i dont mind the dress code. It's just a shirt. You only have to wear it for about eight hours, you can always change it when you get home. Everyone will get treated more equal by not getting teased about what you wear. I am in 8th grade this year and i wish they would get a dress code at the high school. The dress code isnt ugly, it's awesome. It shows you support your school!
Posted: Wednesday, September 28, 2011
Article comment by:
-"You [the board] didn't even take the parents' vote into account, there was no vote from us," she said.
"Only giving us a month to get the clothes was not OK because some parents already bought school clothes and don't have money to be going and getting more." Roberta Schuman (lakelandtimes.com)
-a high school student from Wake County stated that one of the most common violations is when a girls shorts do not extend pass the girls index finger when her arms are fully extended. She then stated that shorts that are long enough to be approved by the dress code are hard to find.We then asked her if she encountered many dress code violations that related to gang activity. She responded by saying that sometimes, gang members will wear bandanas on their jeans or wrapped around their wrists. She did state that this did not happen often because many gang members at her particular school, “like to keep most things on the down low.” By the students response alone, it is clear that they are against the dress code because in their opinion, it’s guidelines are unfair (wikipedea)
- Do they also apply to teachers and staff? I have seen teachers, principals and aides wearing clothes that would not comply with the updated codes. I'm not a fan of dress codes but I do believe that some line needs to be established. Having said that, I favor the least amount of "control" necessary to accomplish the goal. (And by the way, what exactly IS the goal of a dress code?)
Submitted by grasshopper on May 25, 2010 - 1:54pm. I too have seen school staff members violate the same dress code the students must follow.
Submitted by grasshopper on May 25, 2010 - 2:31pm. Also, I don't like piercings but what problem exactly do they cause? Good question. I'm not a tattoo fan, but I would ask the same about tattoos. Maybe they consider piercings, especially if there were multiple face piercings, a distraction in class. And same for tattoos. Is it just cultural difference? We have extended family in California whose kids have had pink/blue hair, tattoos, and/or piercings. They were both healthy and happy, academic achievers, and non-drug users. Now they're college students. But their folks weren't really hung up about it, maybe because it was more widely practiced there. (www.roaneviews.com0
-ARE DRESS CODES UNCONSTITUTIONAL? Historically, school dress codes have been challenged on one of two grounds: that they violate (1) students' liberty interests to control their personal appearance under the 14th Amendment or (2) students' free expression rights under the First Amendment.
In Bannister v. Paradis, (1970), a federal district court found that school officials' ban against casual clothes simply because they "lead to a relaxed attitude [which] detracts from discipline and a proper educational climate" was insufficient to justify the restriction on the student's right to possess and control his own person
have not been proven to be effective in reducing violence in the public schools (Paliokas & Rist, 1996)
violate students' rights to free expression and represent an invasion of personal freedoms (Layne & Grossnickle, 1990)
use the power of coercion, punishment, and restriction which are not conducive to a nurturing or learning environment (Layne & Grossnickle, 1990)
and bespeak a regimentation that is inconsistent with a free society (Canellos, 1993)
indicate that "adults in the schools have given up on being able to communicate norms and standards and have turned to an enforcement and control point of view" (Layne and Grossnickle, 1990, quoting Robert Rubel, Executive Director of the National Alliance for Safe Schools)
represent a Band-Aid approach to the problem of violence and distract us from finding a cure to the real problem (Kukay, 1992)
smack of racism in that most codes single out "gang" clothing that has emerged from black urban culture ("Dressed," 1994)
attempt to mold children to the white middle class ideal (Jennings, 1989)
discriminate against poor families who cannot afford uniforms (Backover, 1994). (www.edstudies.net)
-Shabraia Dodd, 15, was charged with assault on a police officer after she was arrested for wearing a jacket to East Ridge High School in East Ridge, Tenn. Shabraia acknowledged that she was in violation of the dress code, which prohibits wearing jackets in class, but she said she was recovering from a cold and had offered to remove the jacket after class.
“I don’t get child support, and I already did my back-to-school shopping,” complained Debbie Pua, the single mother of a student at Salinas High School in Salinas, Calif., after officials added new restrictions late last month. The new dress code prohibits anything red or dark blue — including shoelaces — and anything bearing numbers, lettering or sports symbols.
For Jacquelyn Totura, whose daughter attends a middle-school student in Starke, Fla., it’s a free-speech issue. She objected to the Bradford County School District’s decision this year to require students to wear solid-color polo or collared shirts and black, navy or khaki pants. “It takes away her right to be an individual and her right to choose in the morning what she wants to wear and what she’s comfortable in,” Totura said.
The Liberty Legal Institute, a conservative policy organization, is considering suing the Dallas Independent School District after administrators at Seagoville High School ordered a Catholic student last month to remove or conceal her rosary.
sometimes, school officials will admit they’ve gone too far. That’s what happened in Fresno, Calif., last month when administrators at Dos Palos High School apologized to Jake Shelly, a sophomore whom they forced to change into a shirt bearing the words “Dress Code Violator.” (www.msnbc.msn.com)
Posted: Saturday, September 24, 2011
Article comment by:
I think its odd that the parents complain that the dress code is "stripping the community of it's culture" but yet the gang activity isn't? I feel these parents need to be more involved in what their children are doing, they need to blame them selves, not the school!