Dress Code Complaints Bring Crowd to BOE Meeting
A large group of parents and students attended the Vidalia City Schools Board meeting on September 14 to lodge complaints about the school system’s dress code. The issue stemmed from an incident in which a middle school student was called out for wearing clothing displaying the American flag.
Last month, many families became disgruntled as administration at J.R. Trippe Middle School presented several students with dress code violations because of images of the American flag on shirts. Students quickly became bothered by this and protested by purposely wearing clothing with the flag on it.
The School System addressed continued from page
the matter through a public statement, which said: “The Vidalia City School System in no way discriminates against the American flag or the patriotism and freedoms that it represents.” The statement continued, “However, we are tasked with fostering and providing a safe environment of learning that is inclusive to all students, regardless of their political or religious beliefs, and believe that we allow students the opportunity to do that within the prescribed parameters of our dress code.”
The recent monthly board meeting was the first opportunity individuals concerned with the issue had to address the Board. J.R. Trippe student Trace Tippett, and parents Kelly Tippett, Sarah Elkhatib, and Junior Elkhatib, expressed their thoughts to the Board during a portion of the meeting reserved for public participation, Kelly Tippett yielded a portion of her time to her son. “I want to turn my time over to my son for however long he would like to take,” Tippett shared. “He’s the reason I am here tonight.”
Trace Tippett explained that he had been one of the students who was reprimanded about wearing the American flag on his clothing, which he said he was told violated the system’s dress code. “They [the administration of the middle school] tried to compare it to how if they let the American flag be worn, they would have to let other flags be worn,” he stated. “That is not the case because every other flag does not fly over the front of the school or in every classroom of the school, and we do not pledge to every other flag every morning.”
He continued to share what the American flag stood for, and how it bothered him that the other schools in the District did not seem to have a problem with the flag being worn like the middle school does. “I find it ironic how it is fine that we can wear Vidalia gear because we are in Vidalia City Schools, but we cannot wear the American flag when we are in the United States of America,” he noted. Tippett yielded his remaining time back to his mother, who shared that this was truly the first time she had ever really struggled with the District regarding an issue. “I have had four children go through this school system, and you all have never seen my face here before with an issue,” she said, adding, “That’s because I have never had an issue with the dress code until this year. To make exceptions in the dress code, but to not include the American flag in that, is what makes it different than all the other dress codes that you have had.”
She continued to voice her disapproval of the situation as she shared that the middle school administration did not seem to acknowledge the difference in a normal logo and the American Flag. “I was told we could not make an exception for the flag because it was an image, just like any other image,” she said. “It is not an image like any other image – it is the emblem of our nation. It is what family – Trace’s family, my family – for generations have sacrificed for.”
Tippett continued to use the remainder of her time to vocalize her frustration with the school administration choosing how to interpret the regulations put in place by the District. “Evidently, each school within the school system is interpreting things differently. I do not understand how, first, the American flag does not fit in to the dress code and second, how it can be allowed at other schools within the District but not the middle school,” she said.
Tippett concluded, “As a taxpayer, as a city resident, as a citizen of this nation, I feel it is unacceptable to make allowances to the dress code which is excluding the very emblem of the nation that so many have sacrificed for. And that is the thing – if anything is left in this country that unites us all, the flag should be it. We just want the American flag to be allowed with corporate logos and collegiate gear on our children’s clothing.”
Sarah Elkhatib emphasized, “The American Flag is not political,” she stated. “We’re not asking them to wear a Democrat thing, a Republican thing, a BLM flag, a gay pride flag – any of that. It is the American flag. We may not all be black, we may not all be gay, but last time I checked, we are all Americans.”
Elkhatib explained how the school community teaches students to have pride in the school system and the college they want to attend to; but by denying them the ability to wear the American flag, this community is also teaching students to refrain from having pride for their nation.
Elkhatib argued that this lack of pride in the nation is wrong because that is the one characteristic in student lives that will never change. “They may move, they may not live here anymore, they may change what college they want to go to, but the one thing they are never going to change is that they are American,” she said. “That is the most important thing for our kids to have pride in.”
She continued to reiterate the lack of uniformity within the dress code, stating she was told something different than Tippett regarding the logos that could be worn. “They said it had to have the company name with the logo,” Elkhatib informed the Board. She and her husband, Junior, showed both the Board and the audience the Chaps Ralph Lauren sweatshirt, which their son was reprimanded for wearing. “Once a public statement was made (concerning the reprimands), our children were targeted,” she explained. “My son was made to change his shirt because the American flag was part of the Chaps logo.”
Elkhatib concluded before yielding her remaining time to her husband, “That incident made it very clear to me this was not about the logo – it was about attacking the American flag – and it is wrong.”
Junior Elkhatib began his segment of the public participation by recognizing the veterans in the audience, including Kevin Brockway, a two-time image for a United States Marines recruiting poster and 18-year veteran of the Marine Corps. Brockway does not have a student in the middle school, but does have a student in high school, and reportedly attended the meeting in support of the individuals standing up for the American flag.
Elkhatib shared his disgust for the situation: “It is sad that I have to tell my friends who have served for our country that my kid had to change his shirt because it had a little bitty American Flag on it,” he said.
He explained to the Board that he spent most of his life overseas; “I am half Lebanese, and I am here fighting for the American flag,” he remarked. Elkhatib argued the school had further disgraced the flag by not only not allowing it to be worn in the school, but also by taking the outdoor flag down prior to the conclusion of school hours.
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up the American flag because our country represents freedom – and our own country’s schools are trying to take that away,” Elkhatib said, adding, “I have lived half my life in another country and I am having to explain this to Americans that have lived here their whole life – that is very sad,” he stated.
Elkhatib referenced the pants that he wore to the meeting, noting the pants featured an American flag print as a pattern rather than a logo or emblem. “The dress code allows patterns,” he told the Board.
He concluded, “There is no way that this can go on. There is no way that we can have freedom in this country. There is no way that we can teach our kids right from wrong if the first thing we say is that they cannot wear the flag,” he concluded.
Per Board of Education policy regarding public participation, the Board members did not address the speakers or situation at the meeting but shared that all parties who spoke would receive a written response from the BOE. Millage Rate Proposed
The Board proposed the yearly millage rate for individuals living within the Vidalia city limits in both Montgomery and Toombs Counties. The proposed millage rate for individuals who live in the city limits in Montgomery County is 14.852 mills, which is an increase of .342 mills. Through this proposed rate, individuals in Montgomery County will see a 2.36% property tax increase for Vidalia taxes. Meanwhile, the proposed millage rate for Toombs County remains at 14.852, because an increase is not necessary.
Without this tentative tax increase, the millage rate will not exceed 14.51 mills. Also, the proposed tax increase for a home with a fair market value of $100,000 is around $13.68; the proposed tax increase for a nonhomestead property of the same fair market value is around the same amount. Public hearings were held on September 14 and 21, and another will occur on Thursday, September 23, at 12 p.m. at J.R. Trippe Middle School. The millage rate will be adopted at the meeting following the hearing.
Hirings, Field Trips
Hired as Special Education paraprofessionals were: Dakota Husted for Vidalia High School, Kaitlin Colson for Sally D. Meadows, and Joenice Va’zquez Valentin and Teresas Brown for J.D. Dickerson.
Also, several field trips were approved for the Vidalia High School Technology Student Association and Health Occupations Students of America to several locations, including Clayton, Atlanta, Jekyll Island, and Washington, D.C., for leadership conferences.