The way in which we dress, the clothes we wear, and the manner in which we present ourselves matters more than you think. Our appearance is the first thing that people notice about us in society, and whether we like it or not, we are judged by the clothes we put on our backs. But how far is too far? After all, we’re all human beings underneath…
Setting an example
Should our appearance matter? Shouldn’t we all have the freedom to wear what we like, without having to worry about what people think of us, whether that’s to do with class, gender, or race?
Well, according to one Houston principal, the clothes we wear as adults are extremely important in how we are setting an example to our children…
Carlotta Outley Brown, the principal at Houston’s James Madison High School, has recently sent a letter home to parents informing them of a new parents dress code. The letter includes a whole host of forbidden items that they cannot wear on school grounds, and because of this, there’s been uproar on whether she was right to do so or not.
Does she have the authority to govern what school parents can and cannot wear?
Featuring on TV
Well, to answer that debate, we need to head back in time to check out who Carlotta Outley Brown is. It turns out that she actually made the headlines before this controversy. In 2015, when she was the principal of Lora B.Peck’s elementary school, Carlotta was actually invited onto Ellen DeGeneres’ show.
She was rewarded and celebrated for her excellence and dedication to the education system. Ellen described her as a principal who “works 24/7, dedicating her life to the students that are poor or homeless.”
An exceptional teacher
Ellen awarded her school $100,000, and the story made national news. Her co-workers and her students generally consider Carlotta as an exceptional teacher. She’s been known to set up a whole variety of projects and programs that aim to improve and transform Houston’s schools…
Especially the schools that provide a lot of education to those children who come from poorer families. So from this, Carlotta sounds like a lovely, open-minded woman, right?
The infamous letter
Well, now in 2019, some label her as judgemental, discriminatory and offensive after a new dress code she set up for the parents of her current school. A lot of drama has certainly erupted amongst the school’s community! So, what exactly does the dress code entail? What were her reasons?
It all started when she sent a letter home to parents on April 9, 2019, and boy did it ruffle some feathers. The letter started by addressing the recipients as, “Dear Madison Parents and all guests…”
Parent dress code
Carlotta begins by explaining how it is important for children to know they need to wear appropriate clothes at all times – including “when entering a building, applying for a job, or going anywhere outside of the home setting.”
She continues by saying, “For our children to feel prepared and for them to be informed of the appropriate attire, I’m going to enforce these following guidelines on a daily basis at Madison High School…”
This is when she starts to list all the dos and don’ts of what the parents can and cannot wear – there’s certainly a lot of different forbidden items listed in the new rules. Brace yourself! She continues saying, “We’re working together to prepare our children for the future, so therefore…”
Carlotta then starts by putting a restriction on what parents wear on their heads, and this includes a variety of different informal caps and hats.
Carlotta says, “No one under any circumstances can enter our gates or come onto the school grounds wearing a satin cap or bonnet. This also includes the use of shower caps.” Not only are these highly restricted, but mothers of students are not allowed to wear hair rollers either.
These rules may sound stupid, but quite clearly they mean a lot to Carlotta. So that’s hats ticked off the list – what about pants and t-shirts?
Well, she continues the letter saying, “Pajamas are not permitted, along with any form of inside house shoe or any other attire that could be considered pajamas, underwear, or home-setting wear.”
She also put a ban on ripped jeans that “show more skin than they do denim”, and any form of pants or leggings where the body is not fully covered. This includes daisy dukes, low riding shorts, or dresses “that are up to your behind.”
She has also put a restriction on “saggy pants”, as well as vest tops and undershirts. She continues saying, “Very low cut or revealing tops are also not permitted,” as well as “short shorts”. So, it looks like Carlotta’s not happy about the amount of flesh that is being shown.
She quite obviously finds this type of attire inappropriate, offensive and completely and utterly unacceptable for the school grounds – but is she right in enforcing these rules?
A long list
The long list of dos and don’ts is pretty extensive, and very specific indeed. There’s not just one item she’s banning, but a whole variety of different clothes and accessories that she personally deems inappropriate.
Going by the stern manner of the letter, we don’t think she is going to give any leeway either. It seems as though she’s being very serious about the rules, and there’s not anything or anyone that will change her mind.
She then continues the letter saying, “Please note that if you do not abide by the school rules/policies, you will not be permitted inside the school premises until you return back dressed appropriately for a school setting.”
Carlotta then backtracks and explains how she values the parents, saying, “We appreciate that you are your child’s first teacher, however, please know that we need to have high standards. We’re trying to prepare your child for a prosperous future.”
The letter continues, saying, “We need them to know what is considered appropriate and what is considered inappropriate. Whatever setting that may be. This school is a professional environment where we teach our students what is right and what is wrong.
We do value you as parents, but we also have to ask you to value us and our rules of a school environment.” She then finishes the letter saying, “If you have any questions regarding this matter, please let us know.”
Since the letter reached the homes of the parents, there’s been a huge reaction, to say the least. Some good, and some bad. Some parents have been supportive of the new dress code, saying that the importance of what we wear is a good way of setting an example for the students.
Others however, many in fact, have taken massive offense by the new rules, especially the rule regarding hair bonnets and rollers. So what have people been saying?
Well, many parents feel that Carlotta’s language about the hair bonnets is discriminatory, and that it is unfairly targeting a specific race, gender and class who often wear these types of headwear.
Although the principal doesn’t seem to be budging on the new rules, that hasn’t stopped angry parents petitioning against the new restrictions. They feel targeted, embarrassed, and victimized, just by their appearance and what they wear.
Tomiko Miller is one particular school-parent who has been more than outspoken about her upset towards the dress code. She told the press, “I’m totally insulted. I honestly think I have been discriminated against. The language used was demeaning.
I am African-American, and if it’s a misty day and I have a hair bonnet on, I really do not understand how that is anyone else’s business but my own.” However, the anger towards the new set of rules has gone way beyond just the school parents…
Zeph Capo, the president of the Houston Federation for Teachers, has called out the letter as immoral and unjust. He says the new dress codes on women’s hair is “belittling, classist and offensive.”
He then continued by talking about the rule on hair bonnets in particular. He said, “I’m sorry, but this principal has got it wrong. She may have plenty of time and money to go to a hairdresser, but who are you to judge others?”
“A cultural war”
Capo then continues saying, “Others may not have the same opportunities as you. Having a wrap on your head is not offensive. It should not be, nor will it ever be controversial. I’m utterly appalled.”
The school has allegedly been approached numerous times for a statement on the matter, especially regarding the complaints, but the school, including Carlotta, is yet to respond. Some say her letter has started a “new cultural war” on class discrimination.
So, with the issue reaching national importance, what were Carlotta’s intentions? Why does she feel a parent’s outfit is so important? What made her want to create this new dress code? Well, according to reports, the letter was sent out to parents the day after an incident happened at the school.
The incident involved a parent who was told to leave the premises after she came to the school to enroll her daughter wearing a “t-shirt dress and a headscarf.”
The school even resorted to calling the police after she refused to leave until she saw a parents’ school dress code. This incident was quite obviously the straw that broke the camel’s back, because the next day, a letter was sent home to all parents.
There was also another reported incident in which a parent was told to cover up after she came onto school grounds wearing a blouse that accidentally revealed her chest. The school found this highly inappropriate.
Setting the standards
Since the story became a national talking-point, the matter has conjured up a mixed reaction. Some people have labeled the ban as “unfair”, “over-the-top,” and “entirely unrelated and irrelevant to the education of students.”
Whereas on the other hand, some people have commended Carlotta for having the courage and integrity in sticking up for what she believes in. As a result, some say the dress code is entirely fair and justified.
A whole debate
So, what side of the debate do you feel most drawn to? Was Carlotta discriminatory? Or has she actually highlighted something rather important? Whatever the opinion, many people respect her for being honest and doing all she can for the good of her students.
So, now that it’s been four years after she appeared on TV, her reputation has done a 180°. Will her new set of rules ever be revoked? Or are they there to stay?