Friday, April 27, 2007

Anatomy of a dress code violation

Once again, the names have been changed to protect the (not so) innocent.

Sally is a student in my 6th period class. She is a pleasant girl unless things don't go her way, and then she turns nasty. The other day, I casually noticed a sweatshirt she was wearing, as the vivid design caught my eye. The front of the sweatshirt was plastered with a recurring pattern of what appeared to be small pink silhouetted pictures of hairstyle items: combs, blowdryers, lipstick, and... razor blades? I'm not exactly sure how to describe the front of the sweatshirt, except to say that these four small items were shown over and over again, almost in a geometric pattern, so that the front of the sweatshirt was adorned with over a hundred pictures of these same four items again and again. I didn't give it much thought during class. When class ended, Sally came to my desk to check her grade. Now that she was only two feet away from me, I got a closer look at her sweatshirt.

Up close, the appearance of the items was not as innocent as the first glance. The "blowdryers" had trigger guards and front sight posts. The handle of the "blowdryers" had what appeared to be brass knuckles on them. The "lipstick" looked more like a bullet and casing. And then of course were the razor blades, which still looked like razor blades; the refill kind like Paulie uses in prison to cut the garlic thin in Goodfellas.

I told Sally, "Are you aware your sweatshirt has pictures of guns and bullets all over it?" Sally immediately became very defensive and insisted that those were blowdryers and lipstick. I started pointing out the trigger guards and front sights on the "blowdryers" and the shape of the bullets, but Sally would have none of it. I told Sally to remove the sweatshirt, but with a smug and haughty tone, she told me she couldn't because she only had a spaghetti-strapped tanktop on underneath, and those aren't allowed to be worn at school. "Neither is that sweatshirt", I told her. I directed Sally to the office so that the admin could deal with her dress code violation. She bitched and moaned all the way out the door. I entered something in my computer really quick, then exited my classroom to ensure that Sally made it to the office (My prep period had just started). I walked toward the office to find several campus security people giving Sally a ration of crap about her sweatshirt. They had stopped her because she didn't have a pass and must have inquired about her destination. I made sure that Sally made it into the office, then I went about my business.

The next day during lunch (the period before I have Sally in class), I walked by the V.P.'s office on my way to the mailbox, when who should I see sitting outside the V.P.'s office but Sally with the same sweatshirt on again. The campus security folks had obviously nabbed her again. I asked Sally, "You're wearing that sweatshirt again?" She went into another tirade about how they weren't weapons; they were just beauty products. The next period soon started, and Sally walked in about five minutes late. She was still wearing the sweatshirt. I pointed at the door and told Sally to go back to the office. She told me, "But [the principal] told me I could wear it!" Sadly, I believed her, but I sent her back to the office anyway. Several minutes later, my phone rang. It was the principal. I was informed that Sally was cleared to wear the sweatshirt, that the pictures were just beauty products, and to quote the Principal, "I really don't see what the big hubbub is about." A minute later, Sally was back in my class. Wearing the sweatshirt.

Later that day, this email from the principal's secretary appeared in my inbox:
Sally is wearing a SALON theme sweatshirt. [the principal] is OK with this. Sally has been advised about her passion and attitude towards staff regarding this sweatshirt. I'd imagine if nothing is said to her she won't say anything about it. Thank you for your understanding.
A rather snooty admonishment toward teacher and campus security I would say. I shrugged my shoulders, marveled at the consistently inconsistent enforcement of our dress code, and went on with my day. But fear not. The day after that, this email from the principal appeared in my inbox:
Hi Folks,

I would like to clarify that at the time that I evaluated Sally's sweatshirt, I was not fully informed nor did I look closely enough to look beyond what I thought were "salon items". After gathering more information, I called Mr. [Sally's grandfather] this evening, and expressed my concerns about the content of her sweatshirt and the violence that was being disguised as hair salon items. [The grandfather] was entirely supportive particularly in light of recent events**. He agreed not to allow her to wear the sweatshirt to school.

Thank you for your patience,

**Virginia Tech massacre, naturally
Why, oh why must we teachers be second-guessed like this? Do you think I sent Sally to the office not once, but twice, because I had nothing else better to do that day? I couldn't help myself; I had to reply to the principal with a friendly little dig:
I appreciate that. I was trying to think of the last time I saw a hair dryer with a trigger guard and a front sight aperture ;)
To which she gamely replied:
No prob. Thanks for having a sharp eye. :-)
The funny thing about all this is that shirts with weapon imagery really don't bother me all that much. When I was in middle school, I wore a t-shirt with a Marine aiming an M-16 with the caption, "Visit Lebanon: Help a Syrian meet Allah!" This was during the tail end of our ill-fated intervention in the Lebanese Civil War back in 1983-84. At least my shirt was patriotic, rather than nihilistic like the shirts worn today. But dammit, if we are going to have these dress code rules, and these rules against cell phones being on during class, and the presence of MP3 players on campus at all, they must be enforced, or get rid of them. And until it is decided to get rid of a rule, I will enforce that rule. To do otherwise; to look the other way, does nothing but build a sense of contempt in our students for the authorities on campus.

Sometimes, I feel like Elliott Ness in The Untouchables. When asked by a reporter what he'll do if Prohibition is repealed, Ness replies, "I think I'll have a drink". I don't necessarily agree with this weapon imagery ban, but as long as it's a rule on campus, I will consistently enforce it.

Now, about the boy in my 8th period class who the other day was wearing a .223 caliber bullet hanging from a chain around his neck. Yep, I confiscated it.

Good Day to You, Sir


Darren said...

8th period???

W.R. Chandler said...

Our periods are only 40 minutes long. That means shorter lessons, and more students. I hate it, hate it, hate it!

Joan said...

You should've made her take it off, turn it inside out, and put it back on.

We've had kids do that when wearing offensive material on t-shirts on free dress days. I do love having a restrictive dress code.

W.R. Chandler said...

Hi Joan,

Yeah, I tried that first. That is why the office referral was necessary. She wouldn't even turn it inside out for the campus security folks.

"Ms. Cornelius" said...

I feel that frustration. We have seven periods. I also am often the lone enforcer of the dress code. And this time of year, I'm sick of it.

Mister Teacher said...

How nice of your principal to actually LOOK at the sweatshirt first...