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School dress code for parents? Why this Tennessee lawmaker says it's necessary

A Tennessee lawmaker is proposing a new bill that would allow school districts across the state to create a "code of conduct" for adults visiting their campuses.
/ Source: TODAY

A Memphis, Tennessee, lawmaker is gaining attention across the country for proposing a new school dress code — but this time, it's for the parents.

State representative Antonio Parkinson said that after talking with school leaders, educators and other constituents, he'd heard enough "horror stories" about the way adults dress — and behave — when they visit Tennessee public schools, that it was time to give them their own set of rules.

A Memphis lawmaker has proposed a new bill that would allow school districts across the state to draft "codes of conduct" for adults who come on campus.Getty Images

"People wearing next to nothing. People wearing shirts or tattoos with expletives. People coming onto a school campus and cursing the principal or the teacher out. These things happen regularly," Parkinson told TODAY Style.

One of the worst offenders? A mother who visited her child’s elementary school wearing lingerie.

“A principal I talked to told me a lady came into the office with her sleepwear on with some of her body parts hanging out. You got children coming down the hall in a line and they can possibly see this,” he said.

While the dress code aspect of the new bill is getting most of the attention, Parkinson said the rest of the bill would ask school districts across the state to draft larger "codes of conduct" for grown-ups who come on campus.

"Whether you’re there to work, whether you’re a teacher, a parent, a vendor, a visitor, a speaker — anyone who steps on a school campus should be held to a basic minimum expectation of conduct and behavior. That includes how one dresses," he explained.

Rep. Antonio Parkinson has proposed a new bill that would allow school districts across the state to establish a "code of conduct" for parents and other adults who visit their campuses.Antonio Parkinson

The goal is to make sure people are aware of the "expected decorum" when you’re on a school campus, Parkinson said, adding that the bill allows each school district to create their own policies.

"They know better than anyone what their needs are," he said.

The whole initiative actually started with a meme being shared on social media.

"(It) said something to the effect of 'Breaking news: Due to the expected low temperatures, school leaders are telling parents to put on two pairs of pajamas when they pick their kids up,'" Parkinson said. "That meme led to a conversation with one of my constituents during which I learned about some of her concerns about the way that parents dressed at school. That opened up a conversation, and I then got on the phone with some of the leaders in my district and learned how big of a problem it really was."

Tamara Cranford, a mother of two children in Memphis public schools, agrees the bill is a good idea.

When she heard of a Florida school board proposing a dress code for parents several years ago, Cranford, who has worked as a substitute teacher in the past, worried it would unfairly target low-income families who "don't have the means to dress a certain way."

Tamara Cranford, left, of Memphis, poses with her her daughter, Alexis, and son, Christopher. Cranford once opposed the idea of a dress code for parents but she's recently reconsidered. "People are just wearing whatever the heck they want to wear," she said, and that's not good for kids.Tamara Cranford

Now, she believes a dress code for parents is needed.

"Things have gotten out of hand," said Cranford, whose has both a daughter, Alexis, 13, and a son, Christopher, 8. "The men don’t pull their pants up. They're wearing shirts with inappropriate lingo on it. Things you don’t want a child seeing it."

She also has concerns about parents picking up their children in sleepwear. "I’ve thrown on a house dress to pick up my son, but I’ll at least put a coat over it," she said.

Her worry is that kids will see the inappropriate clothing as a bad example.

"It’s not about parents having to wear a suit or a dress or having to look corporate and ‘work ready.’ It’s just about civil decency.

"If you’re going to wear jeans and a T-shirt to your child’s school, make sure your T-shirt doesn’t say anything off-color," Cranford said. "Or if does, throw a jacket over it. ... It only takes a few extra seconds to cover yourself."

Cecilia Batson, a graduate of the Tennessee public school system, thinks the bill is a waste of time. Batson, whose daughter, Sarah, 7, is a first-grader at Alcoa Elementary School in Alcoa, Tennessee, says the state's schools have bigger problems.

Cecilia Batson with her daughter, Sarah. Batson thinks lawmakers fretting over how parents dress when they pick up their kids at school have "too much time on their hands."Cecilia Batson

"Luckily, my daughter goes to a very good school, but Tennessee ranks so low in education in this country. Are we really going to get on parents for their clothes?" she asked. "We can’t even give our kids a decent education, but we're going to tell parents what they can and can’t wear?"

Besides, she added, dressing colorfully doesn't make them bad parents.

"If the kid is fed and cared for and loved and taken care of, who cares how their parents dress?" Batson said.

Parkinson has heard the criticisms, but he says there's plenty of support for the new bill.

"This is a good conversation we are having," he added. "We’ve opened up a dialogue that may have hit some tender spots for some people, but it also may begin to help."

Additional reporting by Chrissy Callahan.