BROOKSVILLE — The days of plunging necklines and rude T-shirts may be coming to an end in Hernando County schools.
An initiative by superintendent Wayne Alexander to sharpen up the student body is gathering steam, with dress guidelines being proposed at all of the elementary and middle schools that don't have them. .
Just don't call them uniforms.
"I wouldn't call it a uniform," Alexander said recently. "I'd call it a universal dress code for K-8."
The changes have already been approved by principals and reviewed by school advisory committees, but must still be approved by the School Board.
Already, five Hernando schools — Suncoast, Brooksville, Chocachatti and Moton elementary schools, and Parrott Middle — limit students' clothing options to plain, collared shirts and dark or khaki pants, shorts or skirt. Other schools have similar dress code schemes but are suggesting modifications to the School Board.
The changes are likely to be felt most keenly at the four middle schools that don't prescribe outfits: Fox Chapel, West Hernando, Challenger and Powell.
Every student in the district must follow a county code of conduct that establishes minimum standards. Shirts or dresses that are low-cut or revealing, for example, are "not acceptable," according to the code.
But principals at all levels say maintaining those standards is a constant challenge, with some students continually in trouble for pushing the sartorial limits.
"The biggest problem we have are the type of tops that the girls wear," said Sue Stoops, principal at Challenger. "Tops have to be long enough and high enough to cover the parts that should be covered."
Even Springstead High School is considering some type of more restrictive dress code at the urging of a teachers' leadership committee, said principal Susan Duval.
Some parents and students plan to fight the changes, said Larry Scott, a member of Challenger's School Advisory Committee. "I don't like the school taking the authority away from the child and the mother and I," he said.
Scott described restrictive dress codes as "tamping down individualism, creativity, free expression," and said well-behaved students might view the new rules as a punishment for the misdeeds of others.
But Stoops said the changes had been proposed by central office, and agreed upon by all middle school principals.
Dominick Ferello, principal of the new Explorer K-8 in Spring Hill, said school uniforms or dress restrictions help take the pressure off kids to keep up with fashion trends, and provide families with an economical alternative to expensive back-to-school outfits.
"It's the great equalizer," said Ferello, who supports the initiative.
The new dress codes would have to be approved by the School Board, something Alexander said would likely be scheduled for discussion and a vote "within a couple of months."
Tom Marshall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1431.