By Bill Spinks

In a marathon virtual meeting that lasted past 11 p.m. Monday night, the Midlothian Independent School District board of trustees was updated on a number of items ranging from the student dress code to the district performance tracker.

While the school will remain in at-home learning until the end of the present term on May 27 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020-2021 dress code for the MISD student body came under discussion. Action will be taken during the May board business meeting, according to the district.

Midlothian High School principal Gary Gates, speaking to the board via teleconference, said he and fellow campus administrators conducted a parent survey in the fall and met with student leadership teams on their campuses to gather and analyze information to communicate to the board. Gates added that a student advisory board meets directly with superintendent Dr. Lane Ledbetter.

Gates said he and other administrators try to catch violators in the morning before class. Most students, he said, are very compliant and will correct infractions quickly when told to. Gates said he also recognized there are exceptions where the dress code should be waived for some students, such as cultural and medical reasons.

Heritage High School principal Krista Tipton said she and other administrators will support whatever the board decides going forward. She said students appreciate not having a standardized dress code and having some autonomy and some ways to express themselves and their individuality within the dress code. Tipton said the three categories that come to mind are safety issues, modesty issues and distractions to the learning environment.

“Overall, our students look wonderful each day,” Tipton said. “They come dressed ready for success; the vast majority of them follow the dress code on a regular basis.”

Khristopher Vernon, principal at Frank Seale Middle School, said data showed that the most common violations for male students were facial hair, long hair length and earrings. Vernon said MISD administrators looked at nine comparative districts in North Texas, and eight of them had no restrictions on facial hair, longer hair length or earrings among male students.

Tipton added that at her school, the vast majority of dress code violations — 92 percent — were corrected on the spot and only eight percent of students were not sent back to class. For facial hair and long hair, male students are typically warned ahead of time that they are out of compliance and given a day or two to correct it.

Trustee Gary Vineyard said he is concerned about relaxing the dress code and allowing facial hair. “What does that look like when a kid walks in and he’s got a six-inch beard? We still want the kids to look good,” Vineyard said.

Tipton replied that the district could adopt a standard that says students should appear neat, well-groomed and not distracting. Tipton said the district’s hair length policy was loosened three years ago from over the collar to shoulder-length.

Other items

• The consent agenda was ultimately approved in its entirety following discussion on a few individual items. Those items included budget amendment(s); approving vendors for fire alarm panel upgrades, marquee 4G cellular equipment, classroom audiovisual equipment for Dieterich Middle School and the MILE; the third quarter investment report for this fiscal year; requisitions over $50,000; summer work hours; and teacher and administrator contracts for 2020-2021.

• The district’s performance tracker, which is its community accountability system, was updated for the board. District chief administrative officer Dr. Courtney Carpenter and district communications officer Karen Fitzgerald updated the board on the timeline of the tracker, which measures the district in a number of learning categories.

• Deputy superintendent Judy Walling and director of secondary learning Nikki Nix updated the board on the district plan to comply with House Bill 3, the new accountability system for Texas public schools. The district continues to meet the standards of the 2019 legislation.

• Information on the district’s high school English Language Arts program adoption was presented. Nix said available instruction will include four years of English; three years of reading, college readiness and study skills; visual media analysis and production; creative writing; three years of debate; three years each of journalism advanced broadcast, yearbook and newspaper; English as a second language in grade 7, and English learners language arts in grade 8.

• The updated budget for the 2020-2021 school year was presented.

• District technology director Leslie Garakani updated the board on the process of procuring a new student information system. In a December meeting, Garakani outlined problems with the existing system.

• The district received the fourth quarter demographic update from Brent Alexander, the district’s demographer. At the end of the 2019 calendar year, the housing market for MISD was strong with average resale prices just under $300,000, but COVID-19 will affect employment numbers in the coming months, Alexander said.

• The board OK’d a new University Interscholastic League policy on student physicals. The UIL will not make physicals mandatory for the 2020-2021 school year, athletic director Todd York told the board, but previous head injuries will continue to be tracked and parents will still need to complete a medical history form.