Parents, students discuss dress code controversy with Orange Beach Board of Education

By Jessica Vaughn
Education Editor
jessica@gulfcoastmedia.com
Posted 9/9/22

ORANGE BEACH — Emotions ran high Thursday, Sept. 8, when Orange Beach High School students and families voiced concerns to the city district school board over what they are calling an …

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Parents, students discuss dress code controversy with Orange Beach Board of Education

Posted

ORANGE BEACH — Emotions ran high Thursday, Sept. 8, when Orange Beach High School students and families voiced concerns to the city district school board over what they are calling an unbalanced dress code that body-shames girls.

Details: A recent school assembly was held to discuss a number of topics with students, including fees, permits, drug testing policy, dress code policy and appropriate behaviors. The controversy began when the male students were dismissed while the junior and senior females were asked to remain behind.
Students say once the boys had left the room, female teachers continued to address the dress code with the students. One teacher reportedly suggested the male students “couldn’t control their hormones” and that the female students needed to “take more precautions to prevent distractions and inappropriate behavior.”

Imbalanced dress code: Corrie Southern, a parent in the Orange Beach system, shared photos with the school board, some which she obtained from the newly formed city school system’s Facebook page, she said.
“We have pictures of boys with their underwear showing that y’all have posted on Facebook,” she said to the board. “We have pictures with school leaders that are standing next to children that are dressed inappropriately per your dress code. We do have leaders that are dressed nicely, but yet they’re in sleeveless clothes, and yet it’s not in the policy that they can wear it.

“I just want y’all to look at those photos because there’s multiple ones with boys with their underwear showing, but of course girls, you know, can’t dress how they want,” she added.
Southern received applause from audience members as she left the podium.
Many Orange Beach parents have spoken up since the incident, saying they’ve seen their children disciplined more strictly for their clothes than in the past. However, Superintendent Randy Wilkes said there have been no changes made to the dress code.
Wilkes male students were given dress code talks in a separate meeting.

Superintendent’s response: A few days after the assembly, Wilkes released an apology.

“Towards the end of the assembly, male students were dismissed, and female employees facilitated a dress code discussion with female students,” he said in the letter. “Employee comments regarding male hormones were negated, and an explanation of intent was given to students immediately during the meeting.”
He said based on his findings into the matter, the person who made the comment about male students corrected themselves immediately and explained the comment to the female students.
“On behalf of Orange Beach City Schools, I offer an apology to anyone offended by the separate discussion and comments made,” the statement continued. “Malice and ill-will were not the intent. It is the school system’s desire to treat every person fairly and to enforce policy consistently and equitably. Efforts have been made to ensure matters are handled differently in the future.”

Parental concerns: Southern, however, said she is disappointed in the lack of communication and the lack of action taken following the incident and that she is upset because of the treatment her daughters and their classmates received.
“I’m upset because it’s not really a matter we can speak about,” she said. “I’ve tried to have a meeting with the principal. There’s no definition of what’s going to happen. The three teachers who had spoken to all these kids, nothing’s going to be done from my understanding, from what I’ve been told, at least nothing publicly. Which I don’t need anything publicly, but something needs to be done for body-shaming these girls. And not to mention what they’ve said about the boys. I’ve got boys, too. Raging hormones is not a reason to dress a certain way. They’ve got to learn, and it comes from parenting, and it comes from school.”

While the dress code is an issue, Southern said, the problem goes deeper.
“One hundred and fifty girls were pulled out of a classroom,” she said. “They lost that education for that day, and they can’t make it up. And my girls were put in OCS (on-campus suspension) because of how they were dressed. They had their phones taken away; they weren’t allowed to contact anybody. The school didn’t even contact me. So, where’s the communication?”
Southern said on the day in question, her daughters were in compliance with the school system’s dress code policy.

OBBE’s response: At the meeting’s conclusion, school board member Randy McKinney addressed those in attendance.
“I want to remind everybody, and let’s think about this, that we’re really all on the same team,” he said. “We may have had some differences in some of the things that this board put together early on, but if you had any idea of how much work this board has done to get all of these things together in the amount of time that we’ve had to get them together, there is absolutely no way it was going to be perfect. We know that there’s some hiccups. We know that there are some things that we have to fix, and this board, I can assure you, is concerned mainly about the academic excellence in this community.
“It’s not us against them or you against us or anything like that,” he continued. “We’re a team. We had some differences, so let’s fix those differences, let’s correct where we need to and we’ll move on, because this goal and this vision of this board and Randy Wilkes is nothing but providing the best educational experience for your child.”
This is the first school year Orange Beach schools are operating in their own city school system after pulling away from the county district. Gulf Shores schools previously did the same.
McKinney received applause from the audience following his statement.

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