A Connecticut high school recently sparked criticism after its latest attempt to crack down on dress code violations prompted 150 suspensions in one day.
The students were each called by name over the loud speaker and were then suspended for the following day. Officials said students caught up in the sweep at Wilby High School were those sporting “forbidden colors” and hooded sweatshirts.
Honors student Allyanna Jones, who has never gotten in trouble for a wardrobe violation before, said she offered to remove her sweatshirt and return to class, but school officials still suspended her.
“I said, ‘I’d rather be cold than suspended,’” the 16-year-old said. “They said, ‘It’s only one day. You’ll get over it.’”
The Wilby High dress code calls for boys to wear black or green shirts tucked into a pair of belted pants. Female students are required to wear shorts, dresses, and pants in navy, blue, black, gray or khaki.
School officials said the rules are in place to foster an environment in which students can focus on learning, make it more difficult to hide weapons and to reduce the cost of clothes worn to school.
The district later wiped the suspensions from students’ records, but activist said the mass suspension is part of a pattern that reflects an ongoing problem in the Connecticut school district made up of predominantly Hispanic and black students.
The district had already been facing scrutiny for its low number of minority teachers and has suspended half of its students at least once within the last year.
“This is the purest example of promoting discipline over academic performance,” said Robert Goodrich, a co-founder of Radical Advocates for Cross-Cultural Education in Waterbury. He compared it to “broken window” policing, which takes aim at minor offenses in an effort to maintain the overall peace.
Darren Schwartz, the Waterbury district’s chief academic officer, said the schools have been working to reduce the number of suspensions by trying to understand the issues behind the behavioral problems. He said over the last five years, suspensions have gone down by 12%.
The district — which boasts nearly 19,000 students — saw 12,810 suspensions.
The occurrences have caught the attention of the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights, an organization looking into the school district’s hiring practices — the results of its yearlong investigation are expected within the month.
Critics of the district blame the extreme discipline on cultural insensitivity among staff members. At Wilby High, 84% of its students are Hispanic or black while 83% of its staff is white.
With News Wire Services