The latest frustrating example happened this week when two brothers were sent home from a Minnesota charter school because their mother couldn't afford school uniforms.
Regan Narine — one of the boys entering third grade at Athios Leadership Academy in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota — was excited to start school this past Tuesday. He wanted to meet his teacher and meet new friends, but instead, he and his brother, Raysahwn, were pulled from class. The boys were singled out and sent home because they were wearing shirts that didn't have the school logo.
The public charter school says they enforce a strict dress code as a matter of safety. The boys' mother, Niome Narine, says she couldn't afford a $35 sweatshirt on top of buying other school clothes. The boys' sister, Revecca, was also sent home from school for the same infraction after arriving late because of a doctor's appointment. Niome is currently looking for a new school for her children to attend on short notice.
We can all agree that it's important for schools to have rules to keep order. We can probably also agree that this school handled the situation poorly by making a classic administrative mistake that we see repeated again and again in schools across the country.
The school focused on the rules instead of the student.
The administrators forgot that these dress code rules, which serve a purpose to encourage appropriate attire and to keep charter school students safe, affect real people like these two boys.
We see these school dress code issues popping up in the news all year long, mostly related to the sexist (and often outdated) dress code rules that slant toward female students. Last year, an honors student in Texas was sent home because of "inappropriate" clothing that resembled a man's baseball uniform. That same year, another teen wrote a powerful letter that went viral in response to receiving detention for wearing a full-length dress that showed her shoulders. And just a few weeks ago, yet another female student was pulled out of class for wearing leggings with an over-sized sweatshirt.
All of these school dress code issues have one thing in common: The schools are bending over backward to enforce the rules at the cost of the students. This issue couldn't be more apparent in the story of these young children who could not afford school uniforms. Instead of giving the kids a few days to comply or even finding a way to subsidize the uniforms for low-income students, these kids were singled out and embarrassed on the first day of school.
Though this school dropped the ball, there are still options for parents who can't afford uniforms. Buying used is one of the best ways to save money on the ever-increasing cost of school uniforms. Plenty of charter and private schools offer discounted uniforms for sale that parents have donated once kids have outgrown them. In many areas, low-cost, used school uniforms may also be available on Craigslist or in local thrift shops. And if there's no way around the cost of a logo shirt as part of a school uniform, at the very least, it helps to offset the total cost of school supplies: The Salvation Army and other organizations offer families assistance with free clothing and school supplies, often in partnership with retailers like Target and Walmart.
There are a few solutions to this dress code snafu, but that doesn't excuse the school's actions. These kids were shamed because of their economic status. To prevent this type of humiliation from happening again, their mother has a simple request — either lower the price of uniforms or work with families to help them get the right uniforms. Surely, that isn't too much to ask.
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