COMMENTARY | It’s May and the hallways are full of dress code violations at your local high schools, especially among the seniors. Girls are attempting to rock the “scalloped” athletic shorts, where the recessed hem falls well above the traditional three-inch-above-the-kneecap rule, backless shirts and blouses, and both girls and boys are rocking the tank tops. We get it: The weather is becoming hot and you’re so busy with end-of-the-year extracurriculars that it’s hard for you to do laundry and keep your dress code compliant clothes, which you wore dutifully from August through Spring Break, We also know that you’re trying to push the limit and attract attention.
A high school has created a brouhaha by suspending 160 students for violating dress code, sparking a wave of student and parent anger, reports NBC. After the one-day suspensions at Duncanville High School, several students insisted that they would continue to violate dress code out of protest, claiming the dress code was unfair and was not consistently enforced. Many students have complained to the media that the school was only “cracking down” at the last minute after not punishing violators the rest of the time.
As a high school teacher, I tend to roll my eyes at teen whining. However, they do have a point, and one that is agreed with by many teachers: School administrations are often notorious for inconsistently enforcing the rules. My own high school has had the same inconsistent enforcement of dress code, ranging from lax in the beginning to “cracking down” in May.
To be fair to the schools, it’s easy to not send a violator home in October, when there are very few of them and you do not wish for them to miss classroom instruction. You tell them to never wear that again and get back to class. When word spreads that kids have gotten away with their tank tops and Budweiser tees, by April there are far too many violators to ignore. Then you must “crack down,” prompting the angry cry of “but you didn’t crack down on this before!”
Yes, schools should consistently enforce all rules. This requires conscious effort and communication between teachers and administrators. Many teachers at my school do not report minor infractions because the office has a reputation, deserved or undeserved, of being too lax with teens. Why go through the hassle of sending a kid to the office, which requires umpteen different steps, if the kid is not going to be “scared straight”? And, let’s face it: Once the kid no longer fears going to the office the teacher has lost all leverage. The kid will be a perennial problem.
If we want consistent enforcement of rules we must stand behind those who see and report rule violators: The teachers. Sure, principals and assistant principals can walk the halls and go into classrooms, but teachers are the first line of defense against rulebreakers and those who try to disrupt everyone else’s education. When teachers feel supported they can whip the school into shape by late September. When teachers feel that the office will cave to angry parents (and students), the school will remain rife with rulebreakers.
Then, decent kids get hurt when lulled into a false sense of security and break their first rule during an arbitrary “crackdown” period, resulting in unfairly harsh punishments. I would rather be able to send a kid to the office on September 15th and have him “scared straight” than feel I shouldn’t bother and watch the same kid get triple-punished on April 15th when an angry principal sees the same misbehavior. Many students at Duncanville High would not have been suspended if they had known, from the first of September, that teachers could and would send you home to change your clothes.
If we want fair and consistent enforcement of school rules, we need to back our teachers.