Rigid School Dress Code Leads to Suspension of Dozens in Indiana

More than 150 students have been suspended for wearing innocuous clothing.

ByABC News
August 26, 2009, 11:55 AM

Aug. 27, 2009— -- When 13-year-old Elijah Bell came home from school on his second day of eighth grade he gave his mother the pink warning slip he'd gotten for violating the school's dress code.

His outfit? Pants and a button-up, collared shirt. His violation? The shirt was plaid.

His 7-year-old sister Kayvonne Ferguson also got a pink slip the same day. Her offense was wearing houndstooth patterned pants.

The children's mother, Jacqueline Bell, is one of dozens of parents up in arms about the new dress code at Indiana's Richmond Community Schools, a public school district. The new rules are so draconian, some say, that more than 150 high school students -- about 10 percent of the student body -- were suspended the second day of class alone. Dozens more were suspended in the following days, some more than once.

Bell said she was shocked that her children were sent to school in what she considered respectable clothes only to find out that most everything in their wardrobe was now forbidden.

"It's good enough to wear to church, but you can't wear it to school," she told ABCNews.com. "It amazes me."

Richmond Community Schools Superintendent Allen Bourff told ABCNews.com that the new dress code was enforced steadfastly after a revision last year produced very little change in students' behavior with respect to their clothing.

"The changes were made because of the distractions in the classroom that the teachers had to deal with," he said.

Much of what's contained in the dress code is typical -- no profanity or clothes that expose breasts or behinds. But it's the new changes that sparked the ire of parents and students alike.

Among the banned articles of clothing are: logos, emblems and graphics; prints, such as flowers, stripes and plaids; shorts, skirts and dresses that are shorter than the children's middle fingers when their arms are at their sides; shirts that end above the waist or below the thigh, and anything but plain polo or crewneck shirts.

Clothes can also not be too baggy or overly tight.

Bourff said the problem wasn't those innocuous prints, such as stripes and flowers, but shirts that bore large graphics, sometimes with messages hidden underneath.

"We don't want students out of the classroom. That's not the point," he said. "We just don't want to have any issue with print at all. There are too many ... issues of trying to determine what's acceptable and what's not."