BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County parents who are preparing to buy school uniforms to comply with a new dress code can put away their credit cards.
With less than three weeks until the start of classes, the School Board abruptly withdrew its proposed changes to the code on Tuesday, citing parent complaints and at least one threatened lawsuit.
Many of Hernando's elementary schools have for years required a khakis-and-polo-shirt sort of uniform. The new policy would have extended that broad standard to middle schools and Springstead High.
That drew a predictable chorus of adolescent protests when it was first announced last spring.
Superintendent Wayne Alexander said the lack of consistency in school policies had reduced many assistant principals to the role of "fashion police," constantly meting out discipline for creeping hemlines or drooping belts.
But the new policy also would have given schools latitude to prescribe styles and colors. And those differences prompted a new round of parent complaints.
Under the new policy, jean shorts were permitted in one place but forbidden in another, said board member Pat Fagan. And children who switched schools could be forced to change their color scheme; while any color shirt was fine at Brooksville Elementary, those at Chocachatti Elementary were limited to navy, white, burgundy or forest green. Make that hunter green at two other schools.
With two out of five board members on vacation Tuesday, Fagan's support for the new policy was crucial. And it wasn't there.
"I think there could have been better buy-in (from parents) if we did not wait until the 29th of July to make a decision," he told the board.
"It begins at home," Fagan added. "I think parents need to take more responsibility for some of these youngsters who come to school dressed inappropriately."
Consistency was important to board member John Sweeney, who said he wanted a "seamless" dress code for every school in the district.
Chairwoman Sandra Nicholson said she hoped to see a revised policy settled by January, in plenty of time for next year.
"We're not going to make people happy, no matter what we do," she said. "(But) notice is given: This is not dead, it's just being postponed."
Board attorney J. Paul Carland said he had advised the district to find some research to back up the dress code changes, after fielding at least one call from a county resident who said he would sue to fight them.
"The basic form we were following was the Polk County model, which has been tested in court and survived," Carland said.
Alexander said he would bring a fully researched, K-12 dress code back to the board for next year. In the meantime, existing dress codes still apply, he said, reading the district code from beginning to end for the television audience.
He told parents who have already purchased clothes in anticipation of the new code that they're on safe ground.
"You can't go wrong if you require your child to dress appropriately," Alexander said. "It's dressing for success."
Tom Marshall can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1431.