ABOVE: James Madison High School Principal Carlotta Outley Brown and the letter that was sent out to parents.
The city of Houston has found itself as the hotbed of an extremely hot topic that has garnered the attention of many people across the country surrounding a local Black principal’s decision to institute a dress code for parents and guests who enter the school.
In a letter dated April 9th, James Madison High School Principal Carlotta Outley Brown informed the parents of the roughly 1,600 students that attend the school that effective immediately they would have to abide by some strict guidelines of what they can and cannot wear when they enter on the campus.
Brown, who wrote the letter herself, stated that she was implementing these new rules in order “to prepare our children and let them know daily, the appropriate attire they are supposed to wear when entering a building, going somewhere, applying for a job, or visiting someone outside of the home setting.”
Brown goes on to specify to the parents and guests what attire they were no longer allowed to wear to the school, which according to the letter include the following:
- A satin cap or bonnet on their head or a shower cap of any kind
- Hair rollers
- Pajamas of any kind, along with house shoes or any other attire that could possibly be pajamas, underwear, or home setting wear, such as flannel pajamas
- Jeans that are torn from your buttocks (behind) to all the down showing lots of skin
- Leggings that are showing your bottom and where your body is not covered from the front or the back (rear)
- Very low cut tops or revealing tops that you can see your busts (breasts)
- Sagging pants, shorts, jeans
- Men wearing undershirts
- Short, shorts that are up your behind
- Daisy Dukes and low rider shorts
- Dresses that are up to your behind
- Any attire that is totally unacceptable
According to the letter, if any parent or guest breaks any of these new school rules/policies or does not follow one of these rules, they will not be allowed to enter the school until they return “appropriately dressed” as the letter indicates.
“You are your child’s first teacher,” the letter continues. “However, please know we have to have standards, most of all we must have high standards…We want them to know what is appropriate and what is not appropriate for any setting they may be in…We value you but we must ask you to value and follow the rules of the school environment. This guideline will apply to any or all events that happen inside/outside of Madison’s premises.”
As you might imagine this has caused a stir in the community, especially when considering this policy has gone into effect at a school that is attended by roughly 40 percent Black students and 58 percent Hispanic students, and where nearly 3/4 of the student population qualifies for free and/or reduced lunch.
With the advent of social media, it has given more people the opportunity to not only share information, but also share their thoughts. Interestingly, the responses to Brown’s decision have been mixed, with some people strongly disagreeing with the principal and others supporting her and standing by her decision.
Blake Green, who identified himself online as an alumnus of Madison, as well as a former student council president, stated that he cannot support Principal Brown’s dress code for the parents and guests coming up to the school.
Green passionately expressed his dissent on Facebook, comparing it to other questionable proposed policies, stating:
“Such incidents should be handled on a case-by-case basis. You never know a parent’s situation, and you must understand and be sensitive to the population you are serving. Based on her poorly written letter, you can tell this was based out of emotion and not out of rational thinking. Would you turn away an 80 year-old grandmother with hair rollers who happens to be a legal guardian for a student? Absolutely not! I can recall during my time there, (the) Principal implemented a policy whereby graduating seniors wouldn’t be able to participate in Commencement activities if they had braids, dreads, and/or cornrows! I ultimately shut that down! Everyone’s not fit to write policy! I absolutely love my school and want what’s best for the students!”
Longtime educational advocate and former HISD School Board candidate Larry McKenzie believes that a dress code is not the answer, and feels we must look at the deeper issues facing these students and their families, stating on Facebook:
“By allowing HISD to take good academic and vocational programs out of the communities, we get a parent dress code. A parent dress code is just a symptom of unequal and an inequitable education system. If Black and Brown people had equitable education in our own communities then our schools would have the good students and the good parents. Our neighborhood schools wouldn’t have such a large percentage of parents that don’t respect the power of education and high expectations.”
Several people, however were in agreement with Principal Brown and her decision.
Hazel Tyler, who is also a Madison High School alumnus and a high school classmate of Brown’s at Madison, stated on Facebook:
“Let’s talk about rules, shall we? Restaurants have DRESS CODES that apply to everyone. Nightclubs have DRESS CODES that apply to everyone. Employers have DRESS CODES that apply to everyone. Churches have silent DRESS CODES that apply to everyone. But, when a BLACK, COLLEGE EDUCATED FEMALE develops a standard by which to go by in the form of a DRESS CODE FOR STUDENTS & PARENTS, at the school she is running and is her own ALMA MATER, the entire world erupts!!”
Loretta Ryals-Johnson responded to the issue on Facebook, saying:
“I love this principal and it’s really a dam shame that the new parents need to be told not to wear pajamas or house shoes when coming to have meetings with teachers about their future scholars, no one needed to tell our parents to put on clothes or to tell our dad’s to pull their dam pants up. We are acting brand new and some people are really angry with her for trying to prepare their children for the future. Unless your child is going to work from home all day then they need to know how to get dressed to go on a job interview and to work. Thanks HISD for supporting your district. Everyone in their late 40’s and 50’s should support this principal.”
Brown took over as the fourth principal in only five years at Madison, midway through the second semester of this school year. Instituting a dress code at Madison should not have been a surprise to anyone who has followed Brown, in that she previously served as the principal of Houston’s Peck Elementary School for 15 years and did the same thing there.
Brown even chimed in with a response to the criticism she has received concerning her “dress code” decision on Facebook, stating:
“This past week has been a whirlwind. So much has happened. I was minding my own business and doing the business of ensuring students are learning in every way but then it happened. I was thrust into the National Arena because of my “parent dress code letter”, something I have instituted for 15 years at Peck. Standards, we must have them. What is meant to be worn at night and at home should stay there. It is not to be worn in an educational environment. In fact, it is not to be worn anywhere outside of your home…The letter is not attached to any specific class, creed, color, or gender….it is for all, point blank and period. I am moving a school towards academic excellence and we all have to be involved in the transformation.”
This has surely become a contentious issue, with both sides making interesting points and strong arguments, but the fact remains, Brown stands behind her decision and the HISD School Board appears to be standing behind her as well.
The Forward Times will continue to follow this story, but we really want to know what you think about this contentious issue. Are the Expectations Too High or Are Our Standards Too Low?
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