Ardmore school dress code quietly updated, prohibits social content at elementary schools

Michael D. Smith
The Daily Ardmoreite

The Ardmore City Schools Board of Education last week quietly updated the elementary dress code to prohibit “social or political content.” The district’s top official said the move was not in response to a mother’s protest that briefly put the school’s decision in a national spotlight after two of her children were removed from classes for wearing Black Lives Matter shirts. 

Black Lives Matter supporters stand in front of an Ardmore elementary school Wednesday, May 5, 2021, to protest school actions against students wearing BLM shirts. The Ardmore City Schools Board of Education last week approved changes to the elementary school dress code that prohibit clothing with "social or political content."

“Nothing was discussed at all. The only thing I remember was we changed some of the facilities that the board was willing to lease to outside groups,” said Superintendent Kim Holland on May 20. He spoke by phone two days after a school board meeting that approved student handbooks for elementary, middle and high school students for the next academic year. 

The board approved the changes as part of their May 18 consent agenda in which multiple, often routine, agenda items are approved with a single vote of the board and discussion is rare. Board President James Foreman, Jr., said late Thursday that the board approved handbooks but did not make changes to dress codes. He could not account for the changes that appear compared to page 5 of the current handbook that appears on the school's website

Above, a copy of page 5 from the Ardmore City Schools Elementary Schools handbook for the 2020-2021 school year does not mention "social or political content." Below, a copy of page 12 from the ACS Elementary Schools handbook for the 2021-2022 school year, approved by the ACS board on May 18, prohibits "items with social or political content."

According to documents available on the district’s website, the Elementary Student Handbook for 21-22 added to the dress code on page 12 “items with social or political content are not allowed as they could be disruptive to the learning environment.” Similar language was neither in the current year’s handbooks nor in next year's middle school or high school handbooks.

Holland said last week that he was not aware of any changes to the elementary dress code when the board voted. He said late Thursday that dress codes are not changed without discussion by the board. Neither Holland nor Foreman could explain the changes in the new elementary school handbook.

Follow-up questions this week to ask how banning “social or political content” would impact specific clothing items like BLM, thin blue line supporting law enforcement, or LGBTQ supporting sexual identity rights were unanswered by press time on Thursday. 

Late last month, Ardmore parent Jordan Herbert discovered her 8-year-old son was removed from his class at Charles Evans Elementary School for wearing a BLM shirt. The following week she met with Holland and later sent her two other children to Ardmore Middle and Will Rogers Elementary schools in similar shirts.  

Principals make final decisions on dress code, according to the 2020-2021 Elementary Schools handbook on the district’s website. The nine-point section on dress code mentions only that shirts and tops with “saying or logos” should be school-appropriate and in good taste. 

A small protest was staged in front of Charles Evans Elementary School on May 5. While Herbert’s oldest son was reportedly not reprimanded at the middle school that day, her two youngest sons were both removed from class for the shirts. The decisions sparked backlash from a civil rights group and received attention from multiple media outlets from across the country. 

The American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma sent a letter to the school on May 7 calling for the district to reverse their policy banning BLM shirts, according to The New York Times. The ACLU of Oklahoma has not returned multiple requests by The Ardmoreite for comment. 

Holland said that the district has largely moved on from the issue and is now focused on getting students through the graduation process. 

“As far as I know, we still have one or two kids showing up with the shirts on, but it’s not prevalent throughout the school,” he said last week. 

This story has been updated to include comment from ACS board President James Foreman, Jr,. and an updated comment from Superintendent Kim