The Polk County School board has a message for students when they return to the classroom in August: No more baggy pants.
The board met in a special work session last week, covering mainly topics related to the district’s student code of conduct. The new or updated provisions provoked much discussion, particularly when the topic turned to dress codes and the new “Baggy Pants Law” sponsored by Orlando Democratic Sen. Bill Siplin and signed into law June 2 by Gov. Rick Scott.
Virtually all school districts have dress codes, but Siplin’s bill, SB 228, and the companion house bill HB61, mandate that schools have rules specifically banning the showing of underwear by boys or girls, (thus the moniker “Baggy Pants Law”) and outlining specific punishments for breaking these rules. These are:
• For the first offense, the student shall be given a verbal warning and the student’s parent will be called by the school principal.
• For a second offense, the student is ineligible to participate in any extra-curricular activity for a period not to exceed five days, and the school principal will meet with the student’s parent or guardian.
• For a third or subsequent offense, a student shall receive an in-school suspension for a period not to exceed three days, in addition to the above sanctions, except that the ban on extra-curricular activity extends to 30 days.
During last week’s discussion, Bruce Tonjes, associate superintendent of School-based Operations, noted that the district already has rules regarding inappropriate dress, but that with the new law, “the dilemma comes in when we attempt to punish — there are still court challenges out there.”
Jerome Corbett, senior director of Specialized Services, said the current code specifies that pants have to be worn at the waist, but Board Chairman Kay Fields said she feels the code is widely ignored by school administrators, because when she visits schools, she frequently sees not only baggy pants, but also bare midriffs and other inappropriate styles on female students as well.
Board member Tim Harris asked, “Is there any possibility of this leading to uniforms for high school, since high school is where the gang color issues and the baggy pants issues really are.”
Board member Frank O’Reilly spoke up, saying the school staffs probably had so many other issues to deal with that baggy pants were not their highest priority. “The person who sponsored this bill should have designated that all high schools have uniforms; instead they just focused on the pants issue.
O’Reilly pointed out that Lake Wales High School is providing somewhat of a prototype by adopting uniforms this year.
“We’ll see how that works out,” he said.
In other business, Corbett presented a revised version of the district’s policy on acceptable use of technology, revamped to be more easily understood.
School board attorney Wes Bridges pointed out that according to law, students are protected in posting even highly offensive comments about teachers, principals, or school staff as long as it was not done on computers owned by the district.
“We have authority over what goes on in our media centers and classrooms,” Bridges said, “but if a student goes on Facebook on his own computer, that’s no different than a student saying something about a teacher at the mall or something.”
Bridges added that there was a distinction between offensive speech and threats, however, with the latter not being covered by free speech.
Tonjes noted that the technology rules were a challenge to keep current. “We pass a rule and two months later that technology is obsolete,” he said.
Board member Dick Mullinax commented that, “It’s interesting that students can say anything online, but teachers and administrators can’t even mention a student’s name.