The Macon County School Board discussed changes to be made to the district’s sixth through 12th grade dress code last Thursday evening.
Macon County Director of Schools Tony Boles told the board that he had met with county principals to discuss what changes might need to be made. Boles identified the issues of short length and the placement of holes in pants as one of the areas of chief complaint.
“What (the principals) came up with is that there are no shorts to be worn, except in physical education classes … jeans should not contain holes, rips, frays or tears … period … none,” said Boles, who added that patches in holes would also not be allowed.
Board member Wayne Marsh questioned the difference in shorts and skirts.
“With shorts, they’re starting to roll them up, roll the waist band down,” Boles said. “They may look long enough when they leave home, but they modify them to come up.”
Central Elementary School Principal Daniel Cook added that one issue was that faculty and staff are permitted to wear skirts and dresses at the knee.
“If we abolish the dress issue, then we would be allowing something for our faculty that we are not allowing for our students,” Cook said.
Red Boiling Springs Elementary Principal Michael Owens pointed out that the previous standard had been a nine-inch inseam, which was also the standard for athletic shorts.
“Now, (athletic shorts standard is) seven inches,” Owens said. “So, what the kids are doing is, they’re practicing, and then, they’re wearing those to school with a seven-inch inseam, where it used to be nine, which brought it down to the knees.”
Board member Jed Goad added that he had received calls about teachers’ appearance as well. “Teacher dress code will follow the no holes in jeans, that kind of thing,” Boles said.
Fairlane Elementary Principal Carroll Gunter that she felt that, as adults, teachers were better able to judge what is appropriate and what is not.
“We’re adults ... we’re not children,” Gunter said. “As an adult, I should be able to wear a skirt as long as it is appropriate, whether children should be able to wear those or not. If I’m wearing a skirt that’s appropriate, that doesn’t necessarily mean that a child should get to wear it.”
Macon County Junior High School Principal Jamie Kelley pointed out that female faculty members were permitted to wear sleeveless shirts but that students are not.
“They are professionals, and they know what is a decent-looking sleeveless top,” Kelley said.
Board member Tim Case added, “I think some of the reasoning behind the dress code is distractions. There are some teachers that can be just as distracting to young boys as classmates. So, what’s the goal? Is it for distractions? If that’s the case, we ought to apply to everybody. But if it’s just … well, we want to control these kids, then everybody should do it.”
Case questioned whether all of the principals agreed on the policy. Principals present generally expressed that there was not a perfect solution to the issue of dress code. The board will vote to approve the new dress code at its next regular-scheduled meeting.
The board also discussed a change in policy which would require administrative positions to be posted as available prior to being filled. Boles explained that, previously, teacher positions were required to be posted for 10 days before being filled.
“It was in Teacher Contract, but when Teacher Contract expired in 2014 and the Collaborative Conferencing began, that was not a negotiated part of the teacher contract,” Boles said. “There is nothing in any board policy that I have seen that we currently have or that I could find (that concerns administrative positions).”
Case argued that the lack of policy was unfair.
“The unfairness here is when you have employees in the school system that have certifications, they have their degrees, and they want to move up to a position,” Case said. “Under the way this policy is written, they may not have the opportunity to even apply or interview. They don’t even have that opportunity.”
Case proposed that a policy be created that requires the posting of the positions.
“You still have a right to fill them with who you want to fill them with, but at least give them the opportunity,” Case said.
Boles expressed concern that requiring the posting would cause the board to lose out on qualified candidates.
“Sometimes, there are positions … somebody applies, and if you wait 10 days — and we’ve not hired them — somebody will come along and snatch them out from under us if we have to wait 10 days,” Boles said.
Boles suggested creating a policy that requires positions be posted, but that does not specify for how long.
“It needs to be filled in a timely manner,” Boles said.
Case added, “You could limit it to administrative positions.”
Boles said that he would draw up a policy requiring administrative positions be posted for a minimum of 10 days.
The board also discussed the proposed new elementary school’s size. They had previously approved for the new school to be a pre-Kindergarten through fifth-grade school. Boles told the board that the idea of a two-story building, which they had previously rejected, had again been suggested.
“You’ve got a smaller foundation, less roof … less roof if, in 20 years you have to replace the roof,” Boles said. “It’s a smaller footprint on the land.”
There is also an issue of how common areas, such as a gym or cafeteria, would work in a school that could potentially house more than 1,600 students.
“Do you want two gyms, two cafeterias,” Boles said. “What kind of design features do we really want to put in it?”
Case admitted that there would be some cost-saving with a two-story building but said that he was concerned about having a two-story elementary school.
Boles suggested having the youngest students, pre-K through second grade, on the bottom level and third through fifth grade on the top level.
Owens told the board that they would have to keep the Comprehensive Development Classes on the bottom level. He also told the board that one gym would not be able to keep up with all of the physical-education classes that are required for that many students.
Cook agreed, saying, “We’d have to get creative. Obviously, one gym won’t occupy all of P.E. You could possibly get creative with the standards being taught.”
Cook suggested having a physical-education classroom, in addition to the gym, to teach certain required standards.
“You could have, possibly, some type or gymnastic room or rock-climbing area,” Cook said. “We really need to know that overall number (of students) to know that. We need to know the max capacity that that building is going to hold.”
Case suggested a large gym with partitions.
“You could make it multi-functional,” Case said.
Macon County Supervisor of Instruction Shawn Carter added that the gym was not the only issue.
“You’re looking at at least two cafeterias, two kitchens, two libraries,” Carter said. “I think building a K-5 is a mistake, but that’s just me.”
Carter was previously the principal at a K-5 school.
“The more grades we can put together, the more I like it,” Cook said.
Cook identified a concern with being able to ensure vertical academic alignment. He mentioned the previously-discussed pod idea, where each wing of the school would be almost its own school, just housed in the same building.
“When you look at it on the academic perspective, that is a huge number of kids if we can’t, somewhat, try to funnel them and have some alignments between those grade spans,” Cook said. “Kids are going to be numbers. They’re not going to be names.”
He said that he believed the vertical academic alignment would be impossible with a two-story building divided by grades.
Case pointed to Lebanon High School as an example of one way to address the issue with common spaces. He explained that their atrium was used as a cafeteria as well and that, when students are not eating there, tables are put away, allowing the space to be used as something else.
Some board members questioned how other K-5 elementary schools were laid out.
“Most elementary schools that are being built are K-5, but they’re not this big,” Boles said. “They are 600-800 students. They’re not 1,600.”
The board took no further action on this issue.
The board also discussed the new gymnasium to be construction at Red Boiling Springs Elementary School.
Cope Architecture’s John Cheney told them that there would be a lot of site work required due to the grade the building will sit on. The gym will also likely need to be raised to meet the floor level of the buildings that it will be connected to.
Owens is hoping to ensure that students would not have to go outside to get to them gym.
Board members expressed concern that the estimated price was more than what had been budgeted. Architects estimated the price to be between $3.3 and $3.6 million, but the board had budgeted $1.2 million.
Boles told the board that there will be additional Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund mony and that they may be able to budget the additional price from that money.