Darren Doyle, story and photos
Superintendent of Edmonson County Schools Patrick Waddell held a press conference at the Board of Education today in Brownsville to address a recent dress code issue involving a minor student and the minor's parents. On Thursday and Friday Jan 15-16th, the student and one of the student's parents sent the Edmonson Voice photos of the student involved in the incident along with five other students that were apparently questioned for dress code violations. The caption of the photo read "Suck it, dress code."
The Edmonson Voice looked into the situation and after several interviews with faculty, administration, and several students, we felt that this was not a newsworthy event, but responded to the student and parent and suggested they write a letter-to-the-editor about the situation. They did not submit a letter or any other information.
A story about the incident aired on the local television station WBKO on Monday, January 18, that Supt. Waddell called "inaccurate and unfair." The station even sent out text alerts on that day with the incident being "breaking news." From there, several national news outlets, magazines, entertainment websites, and blogs picked up the story and Waddell said each one became more inflated and inaccurate as it went on.
Mr. Waddell said that both he and ECHS principal Tommy Hodges were contacted by WBKO and they both gave statements, however, he said that most of their comments were not used and that the story was one sided. "I talked to the reporter for over an hour and not a single quote from me was used in the story," Waddell said.
Waddell said that since the story aired, Mr. Hodges and his family have been the victims of negative emails, posts, and comments, some even being threatening. "I'd think that a TV station would have more important news alerts on Martin Luther King Jr. Day than to send out alerts about a dress code violation at Edmonson County High School," Waddell said.
So what happened? The student claims she was forced on her knees while Mr. Hodges uncomfortably measured the length of her skirt from the floor. The school dress code says:
Hodges says that's not how the incident occurred. He said that a teacher suggested the student go to the office and make sure her dress was long enough. Hodges said her parents were not contacted by the school and that he thought this would be a simple incident where he or another administrator would probably issue a warning if the dress was in question and send the student back to class.
However, Hodges said the parents showed up at the school and both the parents and the student requested specifically for Mr. Hodges to measure the dress length, which according to school policy, must be done as the student is at a kneeling position. "The dress was 8 inches from the ground, which was clearly in violation of the dress code," Hodges said. "I never made physical contact with the student, I don't even normally do that part of it, but they specifically asked me to."
He said the parents then checked the student out of school at their own choosing for the remainder of the day, and that no one forced anyone to go home. Hodges said he even excused the absence, something that was out of the ordinary.
Hodges said he would be more than happy to explore possibilities of making changes to the dress code if that's what was needed. It would need to be brought before the Site-Based Decision Making Council, which writes the dress code. However, instead of a dress code issue taking focus, he said the incident has recently turned more into a personal attack on him.
The majority of the student body has supported Hodges, the dress code, and the current policies. There are current popular hashtags on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, that say #IStandWithHodges.
Supt. Waddell said that Hodges followed school policy by the book, and did nothing wrong. Waddell said the story has become nothing but twisted drama. "Some of the comments that Mr. Hodges has received have accused him of being a sexual predator or pedophile."
An emotional Waddell backed Hodges completely as he described Hodges' lengthy resume over the years that was quite impressive.
"I've been amazed by how fast this has taken off, nationally," Waddell said. "It's made me realize that when I read a lot of these national stories now, I'm not going to put much trust in what's being said."
Hodges said he was simply doing his job. "The only reason why I even took part in this aspect of this particular dress code violation was because the parents asked me to," he said. "I want people to know that my idea of the next day at school is just to leave this whole mess alone. We've got testing coming up, we've got state requirements coming up, and we need to get back to school. We need to move on."
Hodges said he apologized to the staff and board for any embarrassment he'd caused the district, but Waddell said it was unnecessary, as Hodges did the job he was expected to do. Hodges also credited his wife for being strong and standing by him. "I'm 6'4" and 260 pounds, she's only 5'2", but she carried me for two days."
Waddell said he was proud of Edmonson County for the support the entire district has received in light of the national negative spotlight. "I can't think of a better place to raise your kids, I'm proud of our folks here."