Published April 23rd, The Huntsville Item.

Dress code top issue at candidate forum

By Jay Ermis
Managing Editor

The Huntsville Independent School District's standardized dress code issue followed school board candidates to Tuesday night's forum at the Walker Education Center.

The five school board candidates were among seven candidates involved in contested races in the May 10 city and school elections attending the forum.

The seven — Steve Fisher, Karin Olson Williams, Glenn Green, Pamela Bagget, Ron Keeler, Ray Martin and Lanny Ray — answered questions posed by the Huntsville-Walker County Chamber of Commerce and members of the audience in the 150-seat auditorium.

The Chamber's Governmental Affairs Council, Sam Houston State University Political Science Junior Fellows and SHSU's Political Engagement Committee sponsored the forum.

Early voting in both elections begins April 28 and continues through May 6.

Williams seeks re-election to Position 4 on the school board. She is opposed by Fisher.

Green seeks re-election to Position 5. He is opposed by Baggett and Keeler.

Martin and Ray seek election to the City Council's at large, Position 4.

Charles Forbus, who is unopposed on the ballot for Position 3, also answered questions.

Councilmembers Dalene Zender and Melissa Mahaffey — unopposed in re-election bids to Position 1, at large, and Position 2, at large, respectively — did not attend.

The HISD trustees adopted the standardized dress code by a 5-1 vote at their April 17 meeting.

Williams voted against adopting recommendations made by student members of an advisory committee. Green voted for the dress code for grades 5 through 12.

Moderator Paul Davidhizar posed the first of three dress code questions from the audience.

“How does each one feel about the recently enacted dress code?”

Steve Fisher — “I have to say that I believe that the Huntsville school district needs a very strict dress code. They talked about having denim, but one thing they did not add. I believe enforcing it is the key. If you don't enforce what you have, it doesn't mean anything. Anytime you lower your standards, you create more problems. It's all about enforcing it.

“I think there are a lot of positive things about the dress code. I believe it needs to be strict. I just don't believe that there are some things that need to be worked on and other issues that need to be addressed. Again, enforcement is the key.”

Karin Williams — “We voted on the standardized dress code proposal at our last school board meeting which was Thursday night. As many of you may know, I voted against that proposal, not because I am entirely against it. But because of a large community meeting in February, it was at least suggested that we were considering blue jeans.

“A lot of people who were very opposed to the idea backed off their opposition at that time. The committee put together to study the issue went to different schools and the feedback they got from schools that had standardized dress was that enforcing denim had caused problems in their schools. Because of that the committee came back and recommended that we not include denim.

“I was uncomfortable with that because it seemed like a lot of people expected that we were going to allow the denim. I don't think the world starts and ends with blue jeans or any one item of clothing. But I think that a lot of people trusted that we were going to include that and I was not comfortable going ahead with that because of that.”

Ron Keeler — “I attended the last school board meeting and the one thing that impressed me was that school board committee was made up of largely parents and students. They are the ones who visited schools and they are the ones who talked with other students and parents and they recommended the dress code.

“There are pros and cons. I think my 21-year-old daughter answered the question very well when she said, ‘Dad, when we had dress codes, I didn't have to worry about competing with the other girls about what I was going to wear.'”

Glenn Green — “The teachers are hired to teach our kids. We want them to teach the core subjects. We want them to also enforce the dress code. That is part of their job. We wanted to make the dress code as simple as possible to enforce.

“That's what the standardized dress does. It makes it very clear what the students are supposed to be wearing. It's very easy to enforce because you can look at them and tell if they are enforced. You don't have to be concerned about the details of where the waist line is or if those jeans are faded.

“The standandarized dress code simplifies that process to where you can look across the room and tell if someone is in standarized dress and they are dressed properly.

“When I came to the meeting Thursday night, I wasn't going to vote for it either. After listening to the committee, I narrowed it down to where I was going to vote for it with jeans. After we started talking about putting jeans into the mix, the gray areas instantly started getting bigger and bigger, making it more and more difficult to enforce.

“If you want to make something enforceable, you have to make it clear cut and simple to do and that's what the standardized dress code does.”

Pam Baggett — “I have to be honest in telling you that I would not have voted for the standardized dress code as it was presented. I think the key thing that we need to realize is that if you have a child whose pants are sagging, which is the most notable example that has been used throughout the past few months, if you do not tell that child to pull his pants up, you're not going to tell him to pull up his khaki pants when they are sagging.

“Enforcement. Enforcement. Enforcement. I have been attending school board meetings for over a year. I have not attended every one but I heard conversations that went on when we first relaxed the dress code. Mr. Lamb (former high school principal Mike) stated in his response that it was about 50-50 on how the teachers felt about it.

“Some teachers felt like we had given up. I think there were a lot of things not taken into consideration and I kept my opinion to myself because I knew I was going to run for the school board. When you have a group of young men standing in khaki pants and navy blue shirts and something happens, it will be difficult to identify who they were.

“Those are security concerns. We told the community that a security concern is that when a child has pants on that he can't take three steps without a gun falling out of them, how he is going to keep a gun in there if he can't keep them up?

“You have to be honest with people and you have to respect them.”