Rigid School Dress Code Leads to Suspension of Dozens in Indiana

"I am all for the dress code," one poster, signed Sara Tyre, wrote. "I have six kids in school. I found clothes for them all that follow the code, and being on a tight income, then anyone should be able to."

Bourff said uniforms absolutely "would have been simpler."

But after numerous conferences and student surveys in the last year, "the message was very loud and clear," he said. "We don't want uniforms."

At this point, Bell said, she'd prefer a uniform, noting that she'd only have to buy one for now and wash it each night without anyone knowing the difference.

Bourff, now in his sixth year as superintendent, noted that the strict dress code does allow for some freedoms that uniforms don't. Students are allowed to pick the colors of their clothes, he said, and are allowed to wear clothing with logos advertising Richmond schools sports or activities.

New Dress Code Creates Financial Hardship for Some Parents

Bell said she was surprised to learn of the changes, especially because there had been a rewrite of the dress code in the second half of last year. That change, she said, simply barred T-shirts and clothing with logos with the exception of university or college.

That knocked out her daughter Kayvonne's penchant for Hannah Montana gear and Elijah's "Star Wars" shirts, but still left plenty of options in her closets. Those options are now gone, including anything with college logos.

Her children would often wear clothing they got for free or discount, T-shirts from her older children's colleges or shirts from the sporting store The Finish Line where one of her sons works. All are now out. Even plain khakis, she said, can be banned even for the simple logo tag on the back.

Bell, a divorced, single mother of seven children -- the oldest five are all in college -- said she simply cannot afford to buy brand new clothing for her two youngest children on her salary as a part-time employee at a community college.

Knowing her mother's desperation, Bell said one of her older daughters sent her part of a scholarship check for new clothes, money Bell will repay her daughter later this semester.

Bourff said the district understands some parents may have a hard time paying for an entire new wardrobe to accommodate the new dress code. Anyone in need of assistance, he said, was welcome to contact school principals who are authorized to give out new clothing that met the guidelines or direct parents to community resources.

The school district also expects a donation from the United Way to start a "clothes closet" where students can trade used items, he said.

Bell, who said she has worked very hard to make sure her children's education was not affected by their low-income status, said that instead of going over homework and last-minute school topics in the morning, she's checking her children's outfits so they don't get suspended.

"It's so in the way of everything," she said. "This is interfering with the education process."

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