T-shirts with various graphics with popular movie characters, cartoons and sports players or logos on them might be in style, but those visiting West Hernando Middle School recently might notice that the styles are more toned down.
Gone are any clothing with large images that might be deemed distracting since school officials instituted a stricter dress-code policy this year that bans all "loud" graphics on clothing, no matter how innocent they seem.
The new policy also bans sweatpants, shoes without backs that cover the heels, zippers or laces on shirts, basketball shorts and anything deemed tight fitting, which includes skinny jeans.
"Gang, punk and goth styles" also are prohibited.
The move is part of an effort to cut down on office referrals based on dress-code violations, said Principal Carmine Rufa, who started his post at the school after being assistant principal for three years prior at West Hernando.
While the policy is more restrictive, Rufa said it's also simple to follow — both for students and for teachers and administrators who have to enforce it.
Last year he said 97 hours are estimated to have been spent by teachers on dress code violations — time he said could have been spent instructing.
"Any type of potential violation where a teacher has to take time out to check the dress code or someone comments about someone's shirt — all incidents add up to time out in the classroom," Rufa said. "That's why we went with a 'Plain Jane' type code. Our goal is to take the distracters out of the classroom."
When researching the topic, he said problems that were found included that some rules for student attire were being enforced more than others. This was due to some school officials potentially having different opinions as to whether certain attire was appropriate or not.
As a result, he said some students felt that rules weren't being fairly administered.
Now it's as much about the size of the graphic as to what it is. If something can't be covered with a playing card from a typical 52 deck, he said it's not allowed.
Tina Tauriello, a parent who now chairs the School Advisory Council, said the group was approached by school officials to research and consider the pros and cons of the stricter dress code.
She said a majority — 26 of 36 parents who voted — agreed with Rufa and found that educators preferred an easier policy that also helped students dress for success.
Many also agreed that going to a school uniform wasn't ideal since it might put an unfair burden on families to purchase new clothes.
"Anyone can purchase plain t-shirts and jeans," Tauriello said. "So far the biggest concern and complaint that we've heard both during discussions and at school is whether kids would no longer have the ability to express themselves and instead become drones, or robots or whatever.
"But the parameters of what they can wear are pretty broad, so they have options. Before we had just too many kids pushing the envelope and we had to decide where we were going to make a stand."
She added that various clothing items are available at the school for students to change into — a needed benefit since violations can't be covered up and must instead be replaced with clothes that meet the policy standards.
Meanwhile, Rufa said since the start of school, there might be one to two office referrals a day based on dress code violations, which he said is pretty low considering school just started with the new limits in place. He estimates that soon there will be far fewer.
"Everything we do, we base on data-driven decisions," Rufa said. "I believe that the new policy will put hours back in the classroom and help increase student achievement on assessments. And this is the first time we've done this. We'll continue to tweak it for next year and look for ways to make it better."