School tattoo policy raises some emotions

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 22, 2008


News Editor

RESERVE—A new item was added to the East St. John High School uniform policy this year, and it is one that has caused a firestorm of controversy among school board members and parents alike.


At the last school board meeting, Board Member Patrick Sanders questioned many aspects of the merit of the new policy, not the least of which was his very questioning of the policy itself.

His introduction of the agenda item prompted the calling of a special meeting of the board’s executive committee earlier in the week, apparently to address the way in which agenda items are introduced. This matter caused Sanders to begin his address with the proclamation, “I will not be censored.”

He went on to explain that the policy is not a district-wide policy, but rather one that is specific to East St. John High School.

He also wondered if such a policy could be seen as limiting students’ self-expression and whether or not the same rules would apply during sports practices and sporting events.

Superintendent Courtney Millet countered his argument, saying that, like uniforms, keeping tattoos covered is a way to keep the focus in schools on learning and that it is also a way to keep kids from making permanent, potentially life-threatening mistakes. Millet noted that some studies indicate that commercial tattoos may be the biggest spreader of Hepatitis C, a potentially-deadly liver ailment.

She also offered that, though the district has no policy regarding tattoos, each individual school’s administration has the final say in policy, provided that policy does not violate district policy or any law.

At that point, Sanders requested an injunction be placed on the policy until the board could meet on the matter, a request Millet ultimately denied.

In the ensuing debate in which just about every board member had something to say, a number of issues were brought to the fore, not the least of which was safety concerns.

For instance, Board Member Clarence Triche said that during a visit to East St. John High School, he witnessed a St. John law enforcement officer speaking to the students on the matter. The officer explained to the students that while tattoos and the fad of shaving grooves in one’s eyebrows might just seem like good fun to them, if they walked into the wrong neighborhood, it could have deadly consequences. He was, of course, alluding to the fact that such things often signify gang involvement.

But it seems the measures opponents’ major complaint was that it was not brought to the board in the first place.

Board Member Russell Jack questioned the respect of a school administration that would put such a policy in place without first coming to the board.

Sanders said his only request was that matters go through proper channels. As he noted, “The only thing I ask for is communication.”

He wanted to know how to address parental complaints when they arose.

Ultimately it was decided that the board’s disciplinary committee would meet to discuss the matter and implement a district-wide policy, an action many thought had come too late.

It was pointed out, however, that the district’s current stance on cell phones started out as an administrative policy at one school. So, just because the committee will meet to discuss the policy does not mean that it will be struck down.