School is finally back in session for my kids, after the hurricane delayed the start of the school year a few days. Now that my oldest has her first year of middle school under her belt, she’s feeling less like a child and more like a teen. She also is more willing to assert her opinion about pretty much anything. This week, the “discussion” (I use that word very generously) topics primarily involve school rules, and two in particular: the dress code and use of cell phones.
[Note: for years we have told my daughter we could consider getting her a cell phone only after she turned 12. Lo and behold, she actually turned 12 this summer! Geesh, how did that happen? We did, in fact, purchase her a cell phone in August. It has significant parental controls that turn it off at 9pm, except to call us or 911, and blocks inappropriate content. Anyway... this is why she is suddenly interested in taking a phone to school.]
So today I called the school to find out firsthand what those policies are. (Yes, I know both policies are stated explicitly in the school handbook, but what the school says and what is enforced seem to be two entirely different stories.)
I was told it is county policy that no middle school students can have cell phones on school property. (However, high school students are permitted to carry and use phones.) This means no phones in lockers, in hallways, in classrooms, or on buses.
Hmm… but my child has previously texted me (multiple times) from friends’ phones while in class. Apparently this rule is not really enforced.
In terms of the dress code, she reiterated the policy: “Skirts, dresses, and shorts must be no shorter than the student’s longest fingertip when the student’s hands are held at his/her side.”
Well… have you walked the halls of any of our public middle schools recently? This rule is also clearly not enforced, at least not in my kid’s school. So, I shared this thought with the school administrator. She quickly started to defend their position, but I cut her off.
“I don’t have a problem with the rules,” I said. “But, I have a problem with you not enforcing your rules.”
“You mean you’re not going to tell me how your child can’t find longer shorts in the stores, or that your kid absolutely has to have access to her phone every minutes of the day, or that your child should be able to wear whatever she wants because this is a public school?”
[For the record, we did have trouble finding longer shorts (in the styles my daughter want to wear). My solution to that problem was to find jeans that still fit in the waist but had gotten to short, and turn them into shorts. We cut them at the knee, then rolled/folded them up to the appropriate length. Hey, it saved me money and got rid of some clothes she'd outgrown. She still loved the style and I thought the length was acceptable. Win, win.]
The administrator then stated the school is making a renewed effort to enforce these rules this year. Apparently the administrative staff is going classroom to classroom the first week of school to make sure students are aware of the rules and the repercussions for not following them. The real stumbling block, she continued, is not the kids, but the parents. Instead of supporting the school, the vast majority of parents argue with administrators when their students are caught breaking the rules, and demand their students be “let out of” whatever punishment was required.
Really?! I know we are a nation of rebels, who drove out the British over 200 years ago to create “the land of the free”, but don’t we need to pick our battles more wisely?
I’m not raising these issues to dictate whether your kids wear short shorts at home, or if they text at 3am, but simply to stress that the rules exist to ensure schools are conducive to learning.
Can we, as parents, come together to support the staff and teachers at our public schools in creating an environment that is best suited for learning? Or will we continue to teach our kids to battle the establishment whenever it is convenient, whenever we simply don’t feel like following the rules?
I realize there are plenty of important principles worth fighting for but is the option to show off your child’s butt-cheeks while she’s studying algebra really one of them?