To the Editor:

As a new resident of Switzerland County, and the parent of a high school honor student, I attended the school board meeting Monday, October 16th, 2006. My daughter was sent home from school and told that her outfit was inappropriate. While I admit it wasn’t something I would wear, I’m not 15 years old. However, she wasn’t told what part of her outfit was inappropriate and I attended the meeting hoping to get an answer. The response I received was, “I’m not commenting at this time, but I’ll be glad to meet with you after the meeting, one-on-one.”

The superintendent has asked me to set up an appointment with his secretary. In the meantime, I’m not sure what she’s allowed to wear and what will be deemed inappropriate. It bothers me, as it should every parent who wants their child to get an education, that her outfit was so inappropriate that she was expected to miss class, but not so much that I could be told exactly what was inappropriate.

Following is a copy of the questions/comments that I had for the superintendent and the board:

1. What, specifically, is inappropriate about her outfit?

2. Why wasn’t she told at the time, instead of being rudely dismissed with the answer of “You knew it was inappropriate.”?

3. Where in the handbook or the handout that was sent home does it state that?

4. Singling out a group of students for their clothing only teaches discrimination, doesn’t it? How do we, as parents, teach our children to respect the differences in others, when the people responsible for educating them are telling them that their clothes suggest they are bad people who do bad things? Not only does this teach them to judge people by the way they dress, but it teaches the other students that it’s okay to make fun of the way some people dress because the adults in charge are telling them it’s wrong.

5. It is my understanding that uniforms were rejected because we wanted to allow the students to express their individuality within the guidelines of the handbook. Now, are we teaching the students that it’s a certain kind of individuality that’s accepted, based on a few people’s opinions?

6. Instead of focusing on their appearance, which is considered a distraction (although I believe the only people being distracted by unique clothes and unusual hair color are the adults, not the students), the focus should be on education. My daughter is an “A” student who rarely does homework or even study for anything. She’s bored, as I suspect are most of the students who are being singled out for their appearances. Advanced classes were supposedly created for students who learn at a faster pace than others, and to challenge those students and keep them from becoming bored. I don’t believe this has been accomplished. We have lowered the learning curve instead of improving the system. As much as she will not like to hear me saying this, she should be earning her grades. She needs to be learning, not just reinforcing knowledge that she already has. Otherwise, what’s the point? A question she will be asking herself soon.

7. Finally, I didn’t come here to be a thorn in the side of the school faculty, or the superintendent. I’ve been a substitute teacher. I have a brother who teaches, and I know it isn’t easy. But we have to get past the notion that the clothes kids are wearing are causing them to make threats or act out. I’m not a psychologist, but the clothes and coloring the hair and piercing the body is part of the acting out, not the cause of it. All teenagers rebel against the norms of society. Today’s students are much more advanced than those of five or 10 years ago, but the education system hasn’t really changed. I know it’s not going to happen here, and unfortunately, probably not while my daughter is still in high school, but making a big deal about clothes, or hair, or the little cliques that they form will only hinder any progress that needs to be made in educating the students. I’m so proud that my daughter has the self-confidence to wear the outfits that I wouldn’t wear; I’m so grateful that she would rather color her hair blue than get drunk or do drugs; if her hair and clothes are the worst things she experiments with, then I’ll be ecstatic. At her age, I did my share of experiments with alcohol and smoking, yet the wildest thing I wore was a pair of jeans with holes in the knees and I never dreamed of coloring my hair, nor did I have the self-confidence to try it.

8. Kids want to learn, as much as they all loathe to admit it, they really want to learn. Focus on what’s important – Education.

Melissa Smith