Concerned parents and students address PRC School Board about dress codes

Published 5:50 pm Friday, September 8, 2006

Parents and students concerned about the dress codes in school addressed the Pearl River County School Board last night and District Superintendent Dennis Penton told the board it needs to worry about the way the district’s student population is exploding.

Sarita Johnston read a letter she had written to the board concerning the dress code policies it had passed for this school year and how those policies are being enforced. Johnson said that students are being reprimanded for the size of their purses, the color of their socks and wearing headbands to school.

“We’re going overboard here. We’ve got a good school and our kids are going through enough already and are fed up with the changing uniform policies,” Johnston said.

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“We are not being consistent and concise with our guidelines for uniforms and in the discipline used to enforce them. There should be no miscommunication here. We’re not moving forward. We’re digressing,” said Twila Crabtree.

Crabtree, who has an 11-year-old daughter in the Pearl River County School District, said that her child “has had enough” with the changing school policies on uniforms and that there are too many discrepancies. For an example, Crabtree told the board of a time when two boys were written up for not conforming to uniform policies because they were wearing shirts that had devils on them.

“Our school mascot is a devil. And then these children wear a shirt with a devil on it and suddenly they’re being written up for wearing satanic symbols,” Crabtree said.

She also mentioned how middle school students are being reprimanded for not carrying mesh or clear bookbags.

“It does not say anywhere in the handbook that our kids can only carry mesh bookbags,” Crabtree said.

“That was left out of the middle school handbooks, but I can assure you that it was an honest ommission,” said board member Margie Creel.

“Then, if it was ommitted, you can’t legally enforce it,” Crabtree said.

“We make the policies, but since we have only one meeting a month in which to amend them, it is up to the principals and teachers of each school to enforce those policies as we have laid them out,” Creel said.

Superintendent Dennis Penton assured parents that students are told the first day of school what is and is not considered acceptable uniform attire and accessories.

“But no letters were ever sent to the parents, telling us about the ommission or giving us exact definitions of what appropriate or deviant attires would be,” Johnston said.

Board member Michelle Boyd asked Penton why these guidelines were not in the handbook.

“You can’t expect parents to know this. It should have been that handbook from the start,” Boyd said.

“We make sure that our policies are explained to the students from day one in one area or another. And every student gets three written notices before any punishment insues. The clarification problems come when people do not like certain rules,” Penton said.

Crabtree also told the board that female students were being reprimanded for carrying purses to school because school personnel claimed they were bookbags, which, according to the high school handbooks, must be made of a clear or mesh material. However, the handbooks currently have no exact measurements for what constitutes a purse.

PRC High School Principal Loren Harris said that he has been using a divider portfolio to measure the size a purse should be.

“If a purse is bigger than that, we tell the student that it must be mesh. Our students have been in school for 21 days now. In that amount of time, only one percent of write-ups have been for purse violations,” Harris said.

The board measured the the divider portfolio, which was 12 inches tall by 14 inches wide in size, and passed a motion to put the dimensions of purses in the handbook and then passed a seperate motion that those dimensions should be 15 inches tall by 15 inches wide.

In the superintendent’s report, Penton showed the board graphs with the district’s enrollment trends and told them they should be concerned about student enrollment.

“We’re not experiencing a steady growth in enrollment for our district. In fact, our enrollment is accelerating at a tremendous rate and this concerns me with the current lack of housing in our district,” Penton said.

Penton suggested the east side of the McNeill campus as a possible site to rebuild the maintenance buidling destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. The building would be built using insurance funds and not district funds.

The board approved Penton’s recommendation to add another security officer.

The board also approved Penton’s recommendation to hire someone to teach English to Spanish-speaking students.

“They would receive assistant’s pay and it would be paid for by the district. We would have them work half a day at the elementary schools and half a day at the middle and high schools. The program would take about six weeks, but what’s most important is getting these students acclimated as quickly as possible,” Penton said.

In other business, the board:

— Approved the donation of $500 from ExxonMobile for the PRC baseball program.

— Approved the proposal to alternate bus transportation with PRC School District and Picayune School District to transport Picayune students and PRC students to scheduled swim meets for the 2006-2007 school year.

— Approved $10 lab fee for Family and Consumer Science classes for the 2006-2007 school year with hardship waiver in place.

— Went into executive session to discuss student, personnel and facility matters.