Two South Effingham High School students and one parent complained to the Effingham County Board of Education on Thursday about enforcement they called inconsistent and punishment seen as unfair for dress code violations in the initial days of this school year.
Parent Michael Huggins told the school board he knew of “40-some” kids who were sent home from SEHS on the second day of school for not abiding by the dress code.
The Effingham County School District dress code outlines a three-step process for violations, starting with a warning and the student being allowed to change clothes. A second offense results in after-school detention or in-school suspension, and a third brings “various consequences depending on a student’s discipline record and the severity of the offense.”
However, SEHS senior Kim Thiltgen said those procedures were not followed and she was sent “straight home” without a warning or being sent to ISS. The issue, she said, was “dress slacks that I’ve been wearing (to school) for two years.”
The dress code allows pants that are made of cotton, polyester and/or twill, and Thiltgen was told her polyester slacks were not allowed because they are seven-percent nylon. Thiltgen said her mother offered to take her a pair of khaki pants to change into, but “they would not let her bring them.”
“They sent me straight home — would not allow me to change,” Thiltgen said. “I missed two of my AP (advanced placement) classes. It was the second day of school.”
Superintendent Randy Shearouse and BoE Chairman Lamar Allen both apologized to Thiltgen for protocol not being followed.
“It should have been — there’s no doubt about it,” Shearouse said. “The only thing I can do is make it right.”
Students sent home under those circumstances will not be marked absent, Shearouse said. South Effingham Principal Mark Winters confirmed on Monday that the students would be counted as present.
Winters acknowledged that SEHS administrators “overcorrected” in “tightening up” enforcement of the dress code.
“Both high schools were told that we needed to step up our enforcement,” he said. “We got the word out that we were going to send them home and not let them change if they were in violation, but the letter of the policy actually says that you’ll discuss it with them on their first violation.”
However, Winters said the number cited to the school board of students sent home on the second day was “way off.” He added that the dress code has not been an issue since the third day of class.
“We sent 19 students home on day two, 11 on day three and one on day four,” Winters said.
SEHS senior Leslie Lamb told the school board that “every teacher” is checking for dress code violations at the start of each class period. Lamb said she documented the time teachers spent doing that — two minutes and 30 seconds, on average.
“I’ve added that up and, after two months, you’ve missed a whole hour of instructional time,” she said.
The most vocal critic was Huggins, whose son Josh plays on the South Effingham baseball team. Huggins said his son was not sent home, but was “threatened” to be because of “shirts that he’s always worn.”
Huggins said the shirt in question — a fitted Under Armour shirt in the school colors with the school logo — was purchased from the SEHS baseball coaching staff. The school board told Huggins the shirt is allowable only on Friday “spirit days.”
“He could wear it every day of the week last year,” Huggins said.
“It’s our problem that we haven’t been consistent from the beginning,” board member Eddie Tomberlin said. “I’m upset because there hasn’t been any consistency, and it needs to be dealt with — and will be dealt with.”
A second, “utterly ridiculous” matter, Huggins said, was his son being told his socks were not appropriate. The dress code allows only matching, solid-colored socks.
Huggins’ son wore socks with a stripe on the back on the second day of school. However, Huggins said because Josh “always wears long pants to school,” the sock stripe was not visible.
“I want to know how these socks are so offensive that somebody’s going to deny my kid his education and send him home over socks,” Huggins said.
“I hope we’re not going to look up his pants leg to see what kind of sock he has on,” Shearouse said. “I don’t think that would be right.”
At the end of the meeting, Thiltgen asked the school board for confirmation that students sent home without a warning and without ISS would not have unexcused absences on their record.
“If it wasn’t the third time, yes,” Allen said.
“It was the second day of school, so it couldn’t have been the third time,” Huggins said.
School dress code
The Effingham County School District’s dress code is available online at www.effinghamschools.com. On the main page, scroll down to “uniform policy reference chart.”