A revised dress code policy is set to go back before the Orange County Schools Board of Education.
The board’s policy committee unanimously passed a revised dress code policy on Wednesday. The procedural move was necessary to move the policy back before the full school board.
Orange County Schools superintendent Dr. Todd Wirt said action taken on Wednesday was a “really good step in the right direction” for the school system.
“I think it provides some safeguards with regards to symbolic speech for a number of groups of students that we have,” Wirt said. “I think it was good work on the part of our board.
“We will now immediately go into work – and work under the assumption that the board will move forward with the policy – so that we can begin work with our principals, assistant principals first and foremost.”
The policy is the culmination of a months-long campaign from the Hate Free Schools Coalition aimed at banning the Confederate battle flag from school grounds.
Latarndra Strong is the founder of the coalition and a parent of a child in the school district. While she said the move was a “step in the right direction,” she hesitated to say she was pleased with the move.
“I think we’re going to wait and see what happens in the enforcement end of the school in the new year,” Strong said. “But I’m hopeful; I’m hoping that the school board understands that the Confederate flag itself is a disruption.”
The reason for the hesitation is the process that led to Wednesday’s committee vote.
The full board initially voted to approve a revised dress code policy last month in a move to ban symbols that are racially intimidating. But the board reversed course and sent the policy back to committee at a meeting later in June that was expected to be a procedural approval on second reading.
The new policy that was brought on Wednesday was broadened to expand the protected categories beyond race to include: “color, national origin, sex, gender, sexual orientation, disability, age, or religious affiliation.”
Board member Brenda Stephens voted to approve the policy on Wednesday but said she was frustrated that the original policy was not approved to address the racial concerns and then the additional categories subsequently added to the policy after discussion.
“Today’s meeting has been a study in pushing back, pushing aside black and brown people, loading up the policy with nebulous terms and phrases to…take the eye off of race,” Stephens said near the end of the meeting. She added she hoped the board would stay away from “delay tactics” in the future.
Strong said that, while the policy does not expressly ban the Confederate flag, she is giving the board the benefit of the doubt that enforcement of the new policy will result in a safe school environment for all students.
“I’m going to be hopeful and see what happens in the coming year.”
Wirt said that the task now was to move toward preparing administrators and teachers to understand and enforce the new policy once the fast-approaching school year starts.
“The short-term work for us is: how do we carry out this policy on a daily basis,” Wirt said. “The long-term work that I foresee happening here and coming out of our equity task force is: race-specific training, cultural-competency training, starting with our leaders and over time moving down to the classroom level.”
Wirt said he felt the expanded policy should address the initial concerns that were brought over the last few months by the coalition, while also trying to expand and cover all students and potential situations.
“I feel like it makes a statement that we’re going to provide a level of safety and protection for kids during the time they’re in our school buildings on a daily basis,” Wirt said, “as much as we can possibly control.”
Strong said that the coalition would continue work and that the flag was just one step toward equity for all students.
“We have parents from every school represented in the district,” Strong said. “And we will be on the ground level making sure that our schools are clean and clear of racial symbols and move to a place where we can create equity for our students.”
The policy does require approval from the full board, which could happen at the next scheduled meeting on Monday, August 14.
Photo via Blake Hodge