The school board this week approved cultural exemptions to the dress code and voted to end suspensions as a punishment for truancy.
Dress-code exemptions will still be left to the principal’s discretion, something that concerned several mothers whose daughters were told to remove geles and other African headwraps last month.
“That was our main issue with the incident at hand,” Dosali Reed-Bandele said.
School board Chair Heidi Carter emphasized that the principal had been restricted by the old dress code, which did not allow her to make an exception for the girls’ headwraps.
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“With our prior policy, there was nothing enabling the principal to make an accommodation,” she said. “Now clearly we do, and this is so much better.”
“We have to trust our principals to make those decisions,” Superintendent Bert L’Homme said.
Board member Sendolo Diaminah suggested adding a reference to the grievance policy, which allows students and parents to appeal principals’ decisions.
Joy Harrell-Goff, another mother, expressed concern that principals’ own cultural backgrounds would inform their decisions.
“Our issue was with all of this discretion that doesn’t make it equitable for every student in a multi-cultural environment,” she said.
“The principal is still left to deem what is reasonable,” said Reed-Bandale. “I want to ask you all to support the principals in getting some cultural sensitivity training ... so they can have that historical context to make reasonable determinations.”
New suspension policy
The revised conduct code also made truancy a “1A” infraction, meaning students cannot be suspended for poor attendance.
In the past, truancy could be punished by a two-day suspension.
Other 1A-level violations under the new policy include dress code violations, plagiarism, use of electronic devices, and minor disruptive behavior. These offenses can be dealth with only through in-school suspension or disciplinary measures.
Under the policy, the only level four infraction - one that requires suspension - is bringing a firearm or destructive device to school. The mandatory suspension for firearm possession is required by state law.
“Sexual assault is a level two - no long-term suspension unless there are aggrevating factors. Acts of terrorism are level three,” Carter said. “I can imagine that someone might read our policy and worry that we’re being too lenient.”
“We are not a zero-tolerance district, but that doesn’t mean we allow misbehavior,” said L’Homme. “There are still consequences, but it’s not always the hammer. And it is a consequence that tends to teach.”
A spokeswoman said Tuesday that DPS does not have data available on the district level for how many students were suspended for truancy last school year.