Dress code has become a major source of contention at one Mobile County school, as a widespread suspension has resulted in strong feelings on both sides of the issue. While some are applauding the suspensions as a way to teach students responsibility, others are claiming the suspension sends the wrong message to students about priorities. Who is right and who is wrong in this debate? The answer may depend on who you talk to.
Suspensions Come after Numerous Warnings
Al.com reports that the principal of LeFlore Magnet High School in Mobile County recently suspended 100 students on a single day for dress code violations. The principal, Alvin Dailey, said the suspensions were issued after numerous warnings to the students that they needed to abide by the dress codes that had been in place at the school for 16 years.
“I’ve repeatedly told kids before today to pull your pants up, take that jacket off, tuck your shirt in,” Dailey stated at Fox 10. “After a while, it’s time to stop talking and take some action.”
The two-day suspensions created a gamut of responses from parents, students and even members of the community. Some supported Dailey’s decision, saying the students need to learn “soft” skills – like a professional appearance - in high school that will help them succeed in jobs after graduation. Others complained that Dailey’s extreme measure does little more than take students out of a safe, learning environment and puts them on their own where they are more likely to get into trouble.
Business Leaders Applaud Suspensions
Some of those supporting Dailey’s decision to hand down suspensions for dress code violations include members of the Mobile business community. Al.com reports that the subject even arose at the March meeting of the Aviation and Aerospace Industry Advisory Council. One of the concerns of the council is to ensure graduating students and other prospective employees have the soft skills necessary to become productive members of the Aerospace workforce in Alabama. These skills might include work ethic and time management skills that can begin in public school.
“[Students] need to learn that if you can’t come to work and wear a uniform, you’ll never be able to work,” Larry Mouton, executive director of career and technical education for Mobile County Schools, told Al.com. “Coddling students and babying them and allowing parents to blame the schools is destroying the fabric of our culture.”
Bill Hafner, vice president of operations for ST Aerospace Mobile Inc., agrees with Mouton. Hafner told the online publication that he is concerned the industry will need to fill positions with employees that don’t understand what it takes to succeed in the workplace.
“Primarily I’m talking about work ethic and discipline, and I’m not sure where exactly you pick that up, but I have some [employees] who honestly don’t realize they are expected to come to work on time or that they can’t take a break until it’s break time,” Hafner told Al.com. “They truly don’t understand that there are responsibilities associated with being a grownup on the job,” Hafner added.
Those Who Disagree
While many in the local workforce appear to agree with the need to reinforce the school’s dress code, some were in opposition to the perceived extreme action the principal took to get students’ attention. The Southern Poverty Law Center issued a statement in response to the suspensions, which was reported in another article by Al.com.
The statement read, “These students at LeFlore Magnet High School were not being disruptive. They were not being violent. They were not using drugs. They were in school – to learn...It’s a shame that school officials would rather teach these students that the clothes they wear in class are more important than being in class.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center filed a lawsuit against the Mobile County school district in 2011 for similar consequences handed down to students. That lawsuit is currently pending in a federal court in the state. There has been no word on whether the organization will try to take legal action again.
Some of the parents of the suspended students agree with statements made by the Southern Poverty Law Center. They addressed a recent meeting by the Mobile County School Board, saying the suspensions would have a detrimental impact on their children. Parents voiced concern that the two-day suspensions could lead to students being left unsupervised while their parents were at work during the day. Some were also worried that the students’ absences could cause them to fall behind in their studies.
Dress Code Nothing New
The current dress code for Mobile County was adopted by the school board on September 15, 1997. In the code, it is clearly state that violators of the dress code could face suspension. Nancy Pierce, a spokesperson for the district, told Al.com that the majority of the students in the district do follow the dress code appropriately. Pierce also refuted allegations that the current suspensions reflect a “zero tolerance” policy, stating that policy is reserved for violations involving bringing a weapon to school.
Dailey said multiple warnings had been given to students about dress code violations prior to the suspensions. In addition, Dailey stated students were reminded of the potential consequences of their actions, including suspensions outlined clearly in the in the Mobile County Public School Code of Conduct. Pierce added that the goal of the consequences is not to remove students from their classrooms, but to teach them a “life lesson.”
Still, there could be an argument made that suspending 100 students at one time is a relatively extreme action for a principal to take. In time, the district will learn whether their actions result in the desired behavior – or another lawsuit.