In a remarkable Board of Education meeting tonight, in a packed room that included about 75 high school students, Bloomfield High Principal Pat Orsini attacked the dress code he’d been charged to enforce — saying that it was causing chaos, distracting teachers and students from instruction and unfairly targeting minority students.
Specifically, Orsini objected to a provision of the code outlawing t-shirts that fall below a student’s hips.
Last Friday, students staged a protest of the dress code. Some 450 wore long shirts that day, he said, and 273 wore long white t-shirts. “One third of the school was in defiance of the dress code,” said Orsini, who praised the students for using “civil disobedience” to address a perceived injustice.
“I could agree with most everything in the dress code policy,” Orsini said, “except when it comes to long shirts.” He pointed out that at Back to School Night, the Bengal Paws, a peer leadership group, was in violation of the dress code, while wearing shirts provided by the school district itself.
Orsini said that enforcement of the code had agitated students, teachers, parents and administrators, but by far the most disturbing indictment he made was the suggestion that it targeted minorities. About 80 percent of the students who were in violation of the dress code last Friday were minority students, he said.
Orsini’s remarks were echoed by a woman in the audience who identified herself as a fashion designer for Rough Rider, who said that long t-shirts are officially designated in the business as an “urban fit,” as opposed to a “suburban fit.”
Linda Sercus, a parent who also once worked in the fashion industry, asked the board to amend its policy to allow the principal of each school to set an appropriate dress code. “No policy you create can circumvent the power of fashion,” she said. “Erase this as a source of conflict. You have so much more important things to debate and discuss.”
Students said the long t-shirts are comfortable, cheap and fashionable. One brought a sign that said, “Individuality. Can I be myself?”
Orsini, himself a large man, also argued that it can be embarrassing to students, especially overweight ones, when they’re required to tuck in shirts — because tucked-in shirts are not flattering.
Although board member James Decker criticized Orsini — “you come in here and tell us it is hard you for to administrate” — it appeared that school board president Barbara Francisco and superintendent Thomas Dowd were leaning towards changing the code.
“It’s something that needs to be revisited,” Dowd said. “Let’s revisit it and get it right.”
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