Two more H.E. McCracken Middle School parents filed complaints Tuesday about the way school staff administered a uniform inspection last week, as Beaufort County School District officials made plans to talk with all principals about enforcing the code without causing students distress.
“It’s important that the methods we use to enforce our dress codes don’t make students or their parents uncomfortable,” district spokesman Jim Foster said.
The move comes after a Bluffton mother filed a report with the Bluffton Police Department alleging that a teacher at the school had put her hand in the front pocket of the woman’s eighth-grade daughter’s pants three times during a uniform inspection Thursday to determine if the pants were too tight.
A day later, district officials and Bluffton police announced that separate investigations had found no wrongdoing, leading to public outcry on social media. Tuesday afternoon, two more McCracken parents contacted Bluffton police to voice similar concerns about the inspection process.
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“There was no difference in any of the allegations,” police spokeswoman Joy Nelson said. “The parents just wanted to be added to the original report.”
The South Carolina Board of Education can take disciplinary action for inappropriate touching, spokesman Ryan Brown said, though no formal definition seems to exist for what that entails.
No parents had filed complaints with the state board as of Tuesday, he said.
Thursday’s schoolwide sweep resulted in 37 boys and 57 girls receiving warnings, Foster said. The crackdown had been prompted by increased sightings of possible violations prior to winter break, though the focus wound up shifting from violations to the methods of determining violations.
The district’s uniform code allows principals and their leadership teams leeway in determining when and how to conduct inspections. But even with no wrongdoing found in the McCracken crackdown, Foster said methods will be discussed as part of the district’s twice-a-month meetings with school principals.
“The parental concerns that were expressed after last week certainly put the issue on our radar screen,” he said.
Regulations currently state that bottoms worn by students must be solid khaki or black, not made of denim, free of graphics and embroidery with the exception of small labels. They also must be of appropriate length, with shorts and skirts no shorter than three inches above the knee while standing.
At issue in is how inspectors can determine whether pants are made of denim, which is prohibited, or denim-looking blends that are allowed.
“There are fabrics that young girls are wearing these days that appear to be jeans which are not,” Foster said. “So if it appears to be jeans but isn’t, it’s permitted.”
Black pants can be particularly difficult to discern, he added.
The only way to tell, though, is to feel the fabric. And with many girls opting for skin-tight styles, it complicates the dilemma for administrators — even as females do the check.
“We’re working on ways to maintain the dress code without making students and parents uncomfortable,” Foster said. “We want parents to support the dress code.”
Whether this will mean having a more defined lists of do’s and don’ts for teachers and administrators during inspections remains to be seen, though.
“We haven’t had that discussion,” Foster said.