Monday, September 29, 2014

May a School Principal Set and Enforce a Dress Code? 1901

From the Sept. 26, 1901, issue of Fisherman & Farmer, Elizabeth City, N.C.
Shirt Waist Trouble…A Popular Fad Gets Into the Public Schools

The shirt-waist question has bobbed up in the school-room.
As a burning issue it is now taking precedence over the wriggling of the book publishers about depositories.

The State Superintendent of Education has had a letter from a mother who has a son in a graded school in a town in Piedmont North Carolina.
The letter has in it the following question: “Is it permissible in a public school presumably for the education of the masses for a principal to make an arbitrary rule on the subject of dress?” If a boy is sent to school, clad in clean, whole garments, with clean hands and face, has the principal any authority to send him home for his coat when the temperature is such that every man in town is working in his shirt sleeves?”

The letter continues with the statement that the lad in this case has gone to school in Baltimore, New York and Brooklyn without being sent home for a coat, but that in the North Carolina town in question such “arbitrary and tyrannical rules are to be found.”

Describing the clothing of her son, the lady continues, “I dress him in fresh shirt-waists daily, without suspenders, with neat trousers, belt, shoes and stockings. I submit that the child is properly clad and that even if he had on rags a public school has no right to refuse the boy a chance for an education on account of the lack of a coat.”

Because of the annoyance caused the lady, she has withdrawn her son from the school until State Superintendent Toon shall have decided whether or not he can be admitted without a coat. In her letter she says that such actin as this “does not encourage a New Yorker to settle in your State to be obliged to pass the censorship of a man who may know how to teach, but not necessarily the final Tsar on the subject of dress or fashion.”

It seems that the lad, who is in the seventh grade, is the only one without a coat, and that a rule exists for seventh grade boys to wear coats, though the lady says that last year the same trouble was had in the sixth grade. His mother says that she considers his condition much better than that of boys, who, suffering from heat, pull their coats down over their shoulders, expose their suspenders, and present anything but a neat appearance.

She commends the school, but insists that the parents have the right to dress their children as they see fit, and that such acts seem fit for a monarchy and not a free country.

In closing her letter the mother says that all the younger children of the school are bare-legged, coatless and decorated with suspenders. She asks for a decision from the State Superintendent as to the extent of the authority of a schoolmaster over his pupil’s dress.

Gen. Toon will today answer the letter. He has not stated definitely what his reply will be, but if his conversation on the matter is an indication of his decision, he will say that the parent is the guardian of the child’s dress, and that so long as a child is in decent apparel he is entitled to public school privileges, coat or no coat, with suspenders or without suspenders.

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