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Hair color suspension causes both sides to react at TASD meeting

During the public comment portion of Tuesday’s meeting of the Tyrone Area School Board of Directors, Bill Turnbaugh questioned the board concerning the suspension of his daughter because of a violation of the school’s hair and dress code.
According to a release from principal Rebecca Erb, the events of the suspension are as followed.
“Assistant principal Jim Butler informed the senior student that her hair color was inappropriate,” according to the release. “Butler advised her to change her hair color. Turnbaugh called Butler later in the day and asked what was wrong with the hair color. Butler said, it was not a natural color. Turnbaugh questioned if anyone could tint their hair. Butler responded, yes, but it has to be a natural color. Turnbaugh then asked for a meeting with the high school principal.”
That meeting took place the morning of August 26. Erb stated that the color was in violation of the high school appearance guidelines which read: “All hair, including facial and other body hair, must be clean, a color that is natural, and styled so as not to disrupt the educational program as well as for health reasons.”
Erb stated, “I reviewed this concept specifically with all students,” according to the release. “I talked about inappropriate hair color, using specific examples. I told all students their hair could be colored, even multi-colored, as long as the color is one found in human beings. In other words it cannot be green, pink, blue or other unnatural colors.
“Her hair contained stripes of vivid raspberry pink,” Erb said in the release. “It was clearly inconsistent with TAHS appearance guidelines.”
Turnbaugh took his daughter to get the color changed in her hair and she was back in school the next day.
“I wonder if the board agreed with the administration’s decision on my daughter’s suspension?” questioned Turnbaugh.
Board vice president James Crawford responded on behalf of the board.
“This board sets the policy for the district and the administration carries it out,” said Crawford. “The administration made the decision concerning your daughter so I think this is an administration issue and not a board issue.”
Turnbaugh asked, “Aren’t you part of the appeal precess?”
Crawford responded, “When it gets to us.”
Turnbaugh continued his questioning of the board.
“Has the board considered reviewing the student handbook and dress code?” Turnbaugh asked. “Was my daughter given due process in accordance to Pennsylvania code 22 chapter 12? The letter of suspension doesn’t coincide with the reasons I received from Mr. Butler, Mrs. Erb and Dr. Miller. According to the letter, she was suspended for appearance violation, insubordination and pink highlights. Not one of these reasons were given to me on August 26. The reasons I was given was, it was a distraction, it is a violation of the dress code, Tyrone is a conservative community and we have to please them, your daughter won’t get a job going to an interview looking like that and finally your daughter’s hair will cause a chain reaction.
“Every morning I drive my kids to school and see dress code violations and not one teacher or administrator is in the parking lot noticing what is going on out there. It is totally amazing.”
Turnbaugh continued his questioning to include asking about other suspensions, ethnic background and family status. He asked if there were more dress code suspensions and are the suspensions public record.
Crawford asked Butler and Erb if they wanted to respond to the questions from Turnbaugh.
“I have no comment,” said Butler. “I followed the student dress code that I was given to administrate.”
“This code is annually reviewed by the board,” Erb added. “It was posted on the school’s website back in August by review by all students. In fact a letter was sent home as well to be clear what those guidelines are before school starts.”
Turnbaugh asked if those guidelines are in accordance with code 22 chapter 12.
Erb answered that she hasn’t memorized the law.
Tyrone Superintendent of Schools Dr. William Miller added to the discussion.
“We handed out a statement at the last meeting regarding this situation,” said Miller. “The handbook was approved by the board and was posted on the website. The board has the perogative through school law to set rules and regulations concerning the student body. The handbook is rather specific and was reviewed at an assembly.”
Turnbaugh took issue with the superintendent’s comments.
“I disagree with your comments,” Turnbaugh said. “There is nothing specifying, it is very vague and it is not in accordance with Pennsylvania law.”
Miller offered to send the specific part of the code before being interupted.
“I have the whole code with me now if you want to get into it” said Turnbaugh.
Miller said, “I’m not getting into it further than the comments that I made last week.”
Turnbaugh asked what the school board stood in the appeal process. “If you want, I can break the Pennsylvania code out right now, but we probably would be here until 12 o’clock tonight talking about it.”
Crawford asked Dr, Miller if he could outline the appeal process?
“If he feels there is a problem with how the handbook and you think it is illegal, he can take legal action,” said Miller.
Turnbaugh asked, “is that the board’s last stand, to take legal action?”
“No, you were asking what course you have,” said Miller. “What I am saying is that the handbook was approved by the board. It is a closed issue as far as I know at this point and time.”
Turnbaugh read from a letter from the hairdresser who put the highlights in the hair and from the box about the color and who it is produced by.
Turnbaugh’s daughter returned to school when she was in compliance with the policy.
The district received the 2003-04 enrollment figures that are taken on the third day of each school year. The breakdown by school is 662 students in the high school, 493 in the middle school and 799 in the elementary school.
The largest class is the sophomore class with 191 students and the smallest class is second grade with 106. The overall school population has dropped from a total of 2,121 students in 1998-99 to a current enrollment of 1,954.