Piercing Policy Gets Sharp Look

School Board To Consider Expanding Dress Code

Posted: February 13, 2014

HARRISONBURG — Students in Rockingham County schools are forbidden from wearing nose, lip and eyebrow piercings, but that may soon change.

During a school board meeting on Monday night, the co-chairs of the Dress Code Committee recommended the school division ax the ban on facial piercings, providing they’re not “distractive, obscene [or] provocative” or endanger anyone’s health or safety. Currently, ear piercings are the only type allowed at county schools. The division does not restrict the number of ear piercings a student may have.

Schools Superintendent Carol Fenn will present the county school board with a recommendation based on the Dress Code Committee’s presentation, likely within a month. But she says she has not yet decided whether to support the change.

“Our board will want to adopt a policy that represents what our community believes and what students need to be prepared for in the workplace,” Fenn said.

The Dress Code Committee surveyed more than 4,000 students, parents, faculty and community members for their opinions on certain policies, and found that sentiment on facial and tongue piercings in school was split, with a slight majority — 56 percent — saying they are not appropriate.

“[These types of piercings] tend to not be a disruption to the education environment, so the thought process from the committee was to recommend to the board ... that these items can be incorporated into kind of the mainstream school society without it being a disruption and without it being obscene or provocative,” said Julie Maxwell, assistant principal of East Rockingham High School and co-chair of the committee.

Maxwell said students have asked about changing the policy.

Under the current policy, last revised in 2007, students can be suspended for three days for violating the dress code three times, and 10 days for violating it four times.

“We want our students in school,” she said. “We don’t want them to be suspended over piercings.”

Any policy revisions brought to the School Board would likely put age or grade restrictions on facial piercings, although specifics have yet to be determined.

Maxwell and co-chair Barbara Palmer, a teacher at Montevideo Middle School, said on Monday that they had consulted with employers in the area and neighboring school districts before presenting the committee’s recommendation. Most companies did not seem to have an issue with facial piercings, Palmer said, unless they would present a safety hazard when working with machinery.

“Overall, that was not a big issue,” she said.

Harrisonburg City Public Schools does not have a divisionwide policy on piercings, but school administrators may address “disruptive” fashion choices on a case-by-case basis. Schools may also make rules specific to their own students.

Part of the committee’s recommendation is to also add an opening statement to the dress code policy that would allow school administrators to prohibit any kind of appearance they deem disruptive, obscene, provocative or dangerous. That would allow them to take facial piercings on a case-by-case basis if a student showed up at school adorned with facial jewelry that was deemed inappropriate for the classroom.

The committee made other recommendations, as well, including prohibiting any kind of head covering, which would include hoods, except for religious reasons. They also suggested removing the ban on dog collars and chains, “heel wheelies,” or wheeled shoes, and grills, or jewelry worn over the teeth, because they are no longer popular fashion trends, and do not often cause issues.

School Board Chairman Lowell Fulk said he needed more time to consider the proposals and talk to students and community members, including employers, before deciding where he stands. He expects to hear a great deal of feedback while the changes are considered.

“People’s opinions as employers certainly need to be considered,” he said. “We’re hoping to help our students ... graduate and leave our schools; we’re trying to prepare them. How much of it we should be responsible for is a good question to ask.”

Contact Kassondra Cloos at 574-6290 or kcloos@dnronline.com

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