By Leah Craig
Despite being labeled as a budget meeting, the public comments of Fowlerville Community Schools’ latest board meeting dealt primarily with two non-financial issues: dress codes and the performing arts department.
The debate over dress code policy arose after an announcement was made at Fowlerville Junior High reminding students that there was in fact a dress code in place, and informing them that it would be enforced with greater scrutiny the following day. Following the announcement, staff was instructed to send any students with “questionable” clothing to the media center, where school administrators addressed the policy.
A group of middle school students brought the issue to the forefront, citing the rigidity and bias of the current dress code. One seventh grader stated that, while the majority of rules were ultimately fair, some were targeted based on gender. Boys, she pointed out, didn’t come under dress-code scrutiny due to the length of their shorts.
Students and parents alike were quick to say that the issue was not necessarily the code itself, but the manner in which it was executed. One mother reported that children were paraded through the school as teachers gathered groups of students to be taken to the library. Multiple accounts cite that staff were physically measuring the lengths of skirts and shorts with rulers. Another parent was quick to note that these lengthy and rigorous inspections were more distracting than the dress code violations themselves.
The public remains divided on whether or not there should be a dress code, what exactly such guidelines should or should not entail, and how these guidelines, if implemented, should be enforced. Regardless, the community consensus was clear: the draconian nature of this protocol is detrimental to student well-being and the learning environment as a whole, with many citing the actions taken by school administration as “overzealous and overreaching.”
The theme of overreaching led to another topic of debate: school plays and musicals.
Controversy arose in the district in response to Fowlerville High School’s spring production of Qui Nguyen’s She Kills Monsters. According to Playbill, She Kills Monsters was the one of the most commonly produced plays in high schools around the nation during the 2020-2021 school year. The play itself primarily concerns the themes of grief, coping, and self-discovery via imagination, as well as creation and connection in an age of isolation– themes that are all too relevant and relatable to young audiences. However, many community members were concerned by the fact that the play also features a lesbian protagonist.
Elaine Clapp, a Fowlerville parent, wrote to school administration, stating that following the production, misinformation about what the play did or did not feature or promote ran rampant, adding that “Students and staff who had the privileged opportunity to work on this play have been subject to targeted slander and demoralizing actions… The most unfortunate part is that it has even come from individuals who hold leadership roles within the district.”
Clapp declined to name the leaders in question, but did ask that those who took part in the hazing and bullying– including members of the school board– issue a formal apology.
The board did not issue any statement of apology, but instead has taken action to implement an “approval process”. Curriculum director Tim Dowker claimed that more district involvement was necessary for the theater program, and that all plays and musicals must be presented to the curriculum committee for screening prior to licensing or purchasing scripts, as compared to simply being approved by the school principal.
The Fowlerville Board voted unanimously to immediately implement the approval process, despite the fact that school boards, by their very nature, are designed to serve as a type of judiciary in public education, interpreting policy as compared to enacting legislation or curriculum changes.
The Fowlerville Board of Education will meet next on June 7th.