One of the more touchy subjects for public school districts always seems to be their dress code. When setting policy, they have to try and walk a fine line between freedom of expression and bad taste, or even indecency. Dress codes are usually a work in progress, as they have to deal with new trends in fashion, political statements, and a whole host of other issues these days.
Regardless of how a school district decides, they always manage to anger some folks. For whatever reason, these debates always seem to fire people up on both sides of the issue, and the discourse never fails to get ugly. It is most often, a lose/lose issue for administrators.
I have a certain amount of empathy for school districts who responsibly try to find the proper balance in their dress code policies, but I have also found some to be completely disgraceful in overstepping their bounds, with stupid interpretations of said policies.
This brings me to Cooper Barton. Cooper is five years old, and is a student at Wilson Elementary School in Oklahoma City. He wore a University of Michigan t-shirt to his kindergarten class one day. In doing so, he became a violator of the Oklahoma City Public Schools' dress code policy.
Apparently, he violated a part of the dress code that was created with the help of an "anti-gang task force." It seems that national gangs often use sports gear to represent local gangs. Or something like that.
The official dress code policy that Cooper ran afoul of, prohibits clothing bearing the names or emblems of all professional and collegiate athletic teams (with the exception of Oklahoma colleges and universities.)
Cooper is five years old. What gang could this child actually be involved with? Could he be involved with suspicious gang activity involving the stealing of straws from other students' little milk cartons? Or worse yet, could they be switching up the chocolate from the regular milk? Finger-painting gang graffiti on their desks? The list of possibilities is endless.
So once Cooper was identified as a dress code violator, Cooper was forced by the principal to turn his shirt inside out for the rest of the day. This was the reasoned thinking of the senior administrator of the school. Take a five-year-old kindergartner, and make him wear his shirt inside out for the rest of the day.
I wonder how his classmates reacted to this? I wonder if this kindergarten class teased him for getting in trouble, or maybe they thought it was as ridiculous as the rest of the country thinks it is? I have heard that Cooper even received messages of support from Ohio State folks. If that doesn't clinch it in his favor, nothing will.
The smart school district allows their administrators some wiggle room for interpretation in these types of policies. The reasonable teacher or principal understands that Mom and Dad are probably U-M fans, or alumni and may be from Michigan. They understand that the child probably got the shirt as a gift from a relative in Michigan (which is indeed the case).
They understand that Cooper is not a gang banger, and therefore, his shirt is not a threat to student safety. The sensible person allows logic to prevail, and it is obvious that nobody involved with this fiasco was either smart, nor sensible, and now they have egg on their faces.
And now, (In my very best Paul Harvey voice) here's the rest of the story.
Cooper's plight came to the attention of the University of Michigan Athletic Director David Brandon. He is a disciple of the Bo Schembechler rules of right and wrong. He saw the idiocy of the situation, and he took action.
The first thing he did, was to have his folks design and make a t-shirt for Cooper that displays the U-M logo even when it is turned inside-out. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9b-1adg-ys8
The next thing he did was to give Cooper a phone call, and invite the boy and his family up this year for a game at the Big House, so that U-M can introduce him to 110,000 new friends, as the biggest Meechigan fan in the state of Oklahoma. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NZerqGERXVk
Cooper and family gladly accepted that invitation.
These are the actions of a sensible person. These are the actions of a man that wants to see something good come out of something bad. These are the actions of a school that most likely will have a future student, and who knows, maybe an athlete. If nothing else, the University of Michigan Wolverines have probably gained a fan for life.
Have fun at your football game Cooper, and GO BLUE!!!