Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Arbitrary Dress Code in Kanawha County Schools And the Confederate Flag

Yesterday afternoon I heard Molly's bus pull up; her stop is directly in front of our house. The next thing I heard was loud honking and adult voices shouting. I leapt up to the window to see a car was trying to go around the schoolbus. Molly doesn't have to cross the street, but other little ones on her route do. So I was shaken up and angry. Because kids all over the country have been hurt by drivers ignoring the stop signs on buses.

Then Mollz came in and, visibly shaken, told me a high-schooler on her bus was wearing a Confederate flag t-shirt. She's extremely sensitive to that image since I explained to her why it had been in the news so often. And so I flew into an apoplectic rage. This is the same school board who sent home a letter last year before a swimming pool party that girls were not allowed to wear bikinis. Eight year old girls.

Just before the bus pulled in I'd been texting with a friend who is having a really upsetting crisis with her eldest and by the time I finished my rage about the t-shirt I was shaken so much I asked for alone time and took a Xanax and slowly returned to my normal, low-simmer anxiety. I waited to think about everything until this morning with a clear head. My head was a thrashing mess of worry and clarity was quite beyond me.

Then, calmer and with better perspective, I looked up the dress code in the student handbook. I found this:

Any clothing, jewelry or accessories with decorations, patches, lettering, advertisements, etc., that may be considered obscene or offensive are not to be worn to school. This includes any clothing, jewelry, accessories that may be used as weapons, which have drug emblems, contain obscenities, tobacco or alcohol, sex, sexual innuendo or which may be considered derogatory towards a race, culture or religion, or which may be considered sexual harassment. [Emphasis mine.]
I put on my professional unflappable voice and called the board.

And I was told that their legal counsel have stated already that there is nothing they can do to prevent students wearing the design. And I asked her, because the person with whom I spoke was not a board member, how I can go about addressing the fact that this decision is in explicit contradiction to the exact letter of the handbook and that other arbitrary rules have been implemented. She took my name and contact information and someone should get back with me.

Look. I've been all over Facebook defending peoples' right to wear or show that flag, but also to argue that yes you must be aware that it is irrevocably tied to racism. Regardless of the wearer's opinion, that image upsets people. It shook up my little girl and I can only imagine what it's like for minorities in that school area. Her school is 99% white. It's in a town where most people don't have to think about race and who see the rebel flag everywhere and it's ubiquitous and likely completely not noteworthy.

But it violates the dress code, and I am adamant about that.

I don't want to stir up a huge thing, and my blog readership consists of just a few locals. But if there needs to be a show of support and not just one pissed off mom, do contact me privately to discuss this if you agree with me and live in Kanawha County. I'm not talking a social media firestorm or picketing the building. I'm thinking a rational conversation to air the grievance. Message me on Facebook directly if you'd like to talk. If you disagree, rest secure that your point of view is already well-represented but I leave comments open and do not censor civil discourse.

And now the worry about instigating a conflict is making me a shaky mess. So it's back to Xanax and baking videos to rest my brain.

Be well, darling bl'eaders. Next post shall involve whimsy, upon my honor I do so vow.


I've spoken with the board official and this was hotly debated with their attorneys. The crux of their decision was that if clothing does not "cause a disturbance" it is permitted. A disturbance defined as interfering with education, and a teary eyed kid on a bus doesn't count. She suggested I discuss with my child the places where free speech and offensive imagery intersect (which obviously I've done thoroughly already).

She offered the option to speak with the School Improvement Council at Molly's school and the high school but very apologetically told me this has been to circuit court already so any disagreement on the point is moot. She was sympathetic and helpful, and told me she agreed with me 100% but that others have tackled this issue and the outcome is a solid decision.

I'm not emotionally equipped to drag this all the way through the channels when evidently it's been done and soundly defeated.

We can educate our own children about our concerns and I can resign myself once again to living on the periphery of Sissonville sorta-subculture. Not to hate on the 'Ville but it's the whitest white town I've ever experienced and far more typical of the state's culture than Charleston.

Oh, Appalachia. 

Sometimes I want to quit.

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