EDUCATION
10/19/2012 12:43 pm ET

Danielle O'Neal, North Carolina Middle School Student, Suspended For Untucked Shirt

Parents of 12-year-old Danielle O'Neal are threatening to sue North Carolina's Pamlico County Schools after their daughter was suspended for a partially untucked shirt.

The incident occurred earlier this month when Pamlico Middle School Principal Lisa Jackson spotted the seventh-grader in a school hallway with an untucked shirttail, after a schoolwide announcement that no more warnings would be issued for violations of the dress code. The policy states that "shirts and blouses are to be tucked into bottom wear at all times."

"Her shirttail was a good four or five inches below her sweater all the way around," Jackson told Compass News 360. "She's a good kid, but my job is to make sure students follow our school's Code of Conduct, which includes the dress code adopted by the Board of Education."

Danielle was sent to in-school suspension, where she had to hand-copy the pages-long dress policy. Father James O'Neal says that while he favors a dress code for students, the policy doesn't define what a "major" or "minor" infraction constitutes, only stating the different punitive measures for the two, and leaves it at the discretion of the principal "or designee":

A student in violation of the school dress code may be subject to various measures. For initial or minor violations, simply notifying the student of the violation and immediately correcting the problem may be sufficient. Violations also may result in the imposition of discipline, particularly for repeated or blatant violations that demonstrate a conscious decision not to adhere to the school dress code requirements.

Pamlico County Schools Superintendent Wanda Dawson told WNCT that the school dress code has improved student success rates in the district, echoing the policy's statement that "a school dress code is a positive and cost effective way to create a more unified, positive, and safe school climate focused more strongly on the learning process."

But the teen was forced to miss class as a result of her infraction, and the O'Neals tell WNCT that what they consider a minor violation is now on her permanent disciplinary record and will affect Danielle's future.

“My concern is she was being taken away from her education. A shirttail was being put before her education,” mother Michelle O’Neal told WNCT. "That’s not right."

James O'Neal is pledging to fight to change the dress policy to make it "right and fair for these kids," even if it means hiring an attorney, and has created an email account to take comments on Danielle's punishment.

In August, communities nationwide showed support for Cooper Barton, a 5-year-old kindergarten student in Oklahoma who was told to turn his University of Michigan T-shirt inside out because it violated Oklahoma City Public Schools' dress code, which bars students from wearing "clothing bearing the names or emblems of all professional and collegiate athletic teams (with the exception of Oklahoma colleges and universities)."

In response, Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon made a personal call to Cooper and his family, inviting them to the UM-UMass game in Ann Arbor, Mich., all expenses paid. He also planned to introduce Cooper to the 109,000-plus crowd at Michigan Stadium, and sent the boy a custom Michigan T-shirt that when turned inside out, still reads "Michigan."

Jordan Griffith, a 13-year-old student at South Jones Elementary School in Mississippi, was told by his teacher to turn his shirt inside out. Griffith wore the shirt in support of his brother, who was deployed to Afghanistan, but his teachers thought that its depiction of the United States Marine Corps bulldog's testicles on the back was too much.

The front read, "If you are not the lead dog," and the back read, "The view never changes."

Controversy over school dress codes heightened last August when Pami Gibbs, the mother of a Stockton, Calif. elementary student, was arrested for physically attacking her son's school principal.

Gibbs allegedly punched Fillmore Elementary School principal Evangelina Ramos several times after Ramos told Gibbs' 9-year-old son that he had to turn his shirt inside out because it had skulls and crossbones on it -- violating the dress code.

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