ST. GEORGE – Local parent Amy MacKay and district officials have both taken a stance on the proposed changes to the Washington County School District dress code policy.
In February 2013, Amy MacKay’s 15-year-old daughter, Rylee, was suspended from Hurricane Middle School for dying her hair a purportedly distracting reddish-brown color (though she was allowed back in class the following week, when school administrators determined her hair had returned to a more natural shade). Her suspension sparked outrage and passionate debate in the local community, gained nationwide media attention and inspired MacKay to take action.
At a school board meeting in March, MacKay, with the support of other parents and community members, formally requested a review of the dress code policy, which the board granted. A lengthy and complex process, which included working with school officials to draft proposed changes to the policy, followed.
“I had to jump through a lot of hoops to get this done,” MacKay said.
Per MacKay’s request, the new proposed policy significantly relaxes restrictions on hair. Section 3.4.1 of the current code states that “Hair, including beards, mustaches and sideburns, should be groomed so that it is neat and clean. Extreme hairstyles are prohibited. Hair color should be within the spectrum of color that hair grows naturally,” while the revised section 3.1.3 states, “… Students must also avoid grooming that is offensive, represents a risk or threatens student safety (extremes in body piercings, hair styles and hair colors may be considered a distraction or disruption).”
Additionally, a section on uniforms was completely removed, as uniforms are not currently used in any Washington County schools. Multiple sections on identifying gang dress and behavior were moved from the dress code policy to the safe school policy.
“What we’ve done is made the policy more open to interpretation by the administration,” WCSD Assistant Superintendent Marshall Topham said. “However, the district still stands behind Hurricane Middle School administrators for their conduct in the issue concerning Rylee MacKay. They were enforcing the policy as it was written.”
“I’m very glad that they listened to the public and I’m grateful that they realize times have changed and the dress code needs to be updated,” MacKay said. “I also think they owe my daughter an apology for the way they treated her.”
“The board’s interest is in doing the right thing and using common sense,” Topham said. “We realize that, sometimes, the policy is more disruptive to education than the potential violation.”
The school district invites public comment on this matter. Community members are encouraged to read and compare the current and proposed policies, then offer feedback.
Once the public comment period ends (no deadline has been announced yet), district officials will review all comments and present a report of the findings to the school board. The board will either approve the proposed changes or schedule the policy for further amendment if they determine that modifications are needed.
“I encourage everyone to give feedback on the proposed changes. (The school district) needs to hear support from the public and know that hair color and style does not affect our children’s education,” MacKay said. “I think parents need to stand behind their children and show them that they have a voice.We are the parents, not the school.”
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