Dunedin High Principal Rueben Hepburn is proposing a stricter dress code, including a ban on shorts, for the upcoming school year.
“We want to be a school that promotes academics, not policing the dress code,” Hepburn said.
Since taking over as principal, Hepburn has been grooming Dunedin High to become a Pinellas County , which sets higher expectations for students and encourages closer parent guidance. Dunedin's first crop of 100 or so fundamental ninth-graders begins this fall.
The stricter wardrobe changes were proposed to further faculty goals of cleaning up the school's reputation. Hepburn cited recent successes that came from stricter discipline.
The school recently raised its grade ranking from a "D" to a "B," and has a good chance of earning an "A" for the 2010-11 school year, Hepburn said. He also announced that the school’s graduation rate increased from 84 to 90 percent.
The new dress code would prohibit students from wearing shorts during school hours. Hepburn showed slides at a July 14 meeting depicting girls' too-short shorts, mini-dresses and skin-tight leggings. Parents largely agreed those items were inappropriate for a learning environment.
No male clothing was depicted in the slides.
One parent who wished to remain anonymous approached the microphone to say it wasn’t fair to punish boys for girls' wardrobe choices. Her comment received applause.
Many parents felt that a more rigorous dress code would require more faculty effort, not less.
“The discipline in DHS was improved, and that had nothing to do with the dress code,” Carol White said.
Other parents expressed concerns regarding the hot Florida weather. One male student, a rising sophomore, said being required to wear pants in hot weather would result in what he called "swamp butt." Others pointed out the regular failing of the school’s air-conditioning system.
“I promise you, if they wear pants in 90-something-degree weather, they’re not going to die,” Hepburn said.
Despite his conviction, Hepburn allowed each parent, student and concerned citizen to vote on the issue. Ballots asking whether the proposed dress code should be implemented or the current county-mandated code be continued were made available.
Parents asked for a compromise: that all students — male and female — be permitted to wear shorts no more than three inches above the knee. Some parents also called for a ban on gym shorts.
One parent even suggested that girls who wear nonconforming bottoms be required to wear paper shorts to class instead of keeping them in the in-school detention center, called IC. She said embarrassing them is the best way to get them to follow the rules.
“If only skirts and pants are allowed, can boys wear kilts?” Lisa Maciolck asked.
Kilts, a longstanding tradition at Dunedin High, especially for its Dunedin Scottish Highlander Band, are generally encouraged as a showing of spirit on game days.
Hepburn said band members would still be allowed to wear kilts for performances but did not say whether he would allow them during school hours.
Hepburn heard from dozens of people and assured them that he would make a final decision on the majority opinion. Parents left the meeting with the assumption that shorts would continue to be allowed in the next school year, which begins Aug. 22.
*This article was updated at 9:46 a.m., Monday, July 18.