"If teachers have it, why not parents": Tennessee Rep explains school dress code for parents
Democratic State Rep. Antonio Parkinson while talking to MEAWW said the legislation aims to put in place a code on how people are expected to behave when visiting schools
News from the state of Tennessee caught national attention last month when a Democratic State Rep. Antonio Parkinson, proposed a new bill allowing school districts to formulate a dress code for parents and visitors.
The proposed bill drew widespread criticism, with many slamming the legislation as classist, biased against low-income group parents and deemed it altogether unnecessary.
The lawmaker from the Memphis area talked to MEA Worldwide (MEAWW) in an attempt to clarify why his proposed legislation is essential and what it is exactly about — a code of conduct among school districts in the state.
"The legislation is not a parental dress code as stated by the media. It's simply a code of conduct so people know what to expect when they come onto the campus. Students and teachers already have to abide by the code of conduct and in some cases, they have a dress code too," Parkinson told MEAWW.
"So, if the students and teachers have to abide by a certain level of decorum or conduct then why shouldn't parents have to abide by the rules also? They are considered the third leg of the education after all."
Parkinson said that he came up with the idea of drafting the bill after someone sent him a meme on his Facebook page, which encouraged parents to wear two pairs of pajamas when picking up their children due to a drop in temperatures.
Parkinson said the meme was a play on how parents come to school in their night attire.
That meme "led to a social media conversation and some of my constituents expressed their displeasure about how some parents are dressed when they come to school," the lawmaker said, adding "I also had a conversation with several school leaders in my community and then the district that I represent, which also included teachers who addressed varied issues concerning parents, other than their attire."
"One of the school leaders I talked to mentioned that one of the parents came to the school in revealing sleepwear and you could see certain body parts which were exposed, and her big concern was that there are small children who are going to be exposed to what the lady was wearing. It was an elementary school after all. There were other situations about parents coming in daily smelling like marijuana or intoxicated. Then there were concerns about adults fighting on campus and adults assisting children and instigating fighting among children and several other issues of conduct that should not have been happening on our school campus," Parkinson said.
The lawmaker also said that the child of the parent who came wearing revealing clothes could potentially become a victim of bullying.
"Have we thought about what happened to the child who saw what the parent who came in revealing clothes? The child of that parent could become a victim of bullying if you think about it. If your mother came on to the campus with body parts revealed and other kids say 'hey, I saw your mom' and make slanderous statements about your mom, that amounts to bullying."
Soon after the news broke, multiple educators raised concerns over how the bill could unfairly target low-income families in the region who don't have the means to dress a particular way, while some parents said that the state legislators could make better use of their time by tackling more important issues like how the state ranks very low when it comes to education in the country.
Parkinson said that he disagreed with the educators raising such concerns, adding "about almost 100 percent the response I've got from educators has been overwhelming support."
"I don't think it would discourage anyone from coming on to the campus. A principal at Houston recently reached out to me after the news came out and she's in a high-risk area, she said that she put a parental dress code for parents in place at her school and once a code was put in place, the parents adhered to the dress code. Why? Because those parents want what's best for their children but sometimes we have to instruct them on what is expected so that they know. In a lot of cases, people just don't know what is expected of them. So, I think it will actually improve the learning environment for our children," the Tennessee lawmaker said.
While responding to parents' concerns he said that the state legislators were not monolithic in their regards to education: "We could be working on multiple issues in our state and that is what we do."
The lawmaker again insisted that his proposal is not just limited to attire or just to parents and includes everyone who visits the school campus, including teachers, students, other professional speakers.
Parkinson concluded his statement with: "The policy is to simply create awareness of the visitors' expected behavior. The bill is not called 'Parental Dress Code', it has no name yet. A lot of people have been thinking about these concerns but no one was expressing it. So we are laying it out on their behalf."