Maybe they've let things get just enough out of hand that the reins had to be yanked. Or maybe school trustees have gotten a case of the summertime blues and felt like jazzing things up.
In any event, the Columbia County school board has taken steps toward cracking down. Most of those changes are long overdue, while a few are just bad ideas. For better or worse, however, students returning next year will find school to be much different from what they've gotten used to.
Perhaps the most visible change is more lenient treatment for tucking in shirts. Three years ago, the board changed its policy to allow some shirts to be worn outside the waistband; they've now done away with the requirement altogether.
Students will undoubtedly like the change, but it's teachers and principals who will give the most applause. Enforcement has been a headache, and stories of excesses - and excessive leniency - have abounded.
Leniency often is nothing more than a difference in interpretation, and there certainly will be plenty of disagreements over another new part of the dress code prohibiting clothing deemed "excessive or extreme." To whom?
So as long as they aren't "extreme," or adorned with multiple body-piercings (also now prohibited), students can be sloppier in school next year - unless they attend the Columbia County Board of Education Alternative School.
That mouthful of a name replaces Crossroads Academy, which the board had officially deemed too attractive-sounding. In addition to changing the name to one befitting a Soviet Politburo office park, trustees also will prohibit alternative-school students from driving themselves to campus, and require them to wear a generic school uniform.
Regimen and discipline is fine. But it's sad to see officials have abandoned the idea of using the more-structured setting of the school to provide valuable remediation for at-risk students, preferring instead to make it a mini-version of a juvenile detention facility.
Another crackdown, though, is long overdue. State rules make it very difficult for schools to have effective attendance policies. The problem has led to chronic absenteeism for some pupils, which hurts schools that are held accountable for low attendance numbers of students taking federal and state standardized tests.
Thanks to the leadership of Juvenile Court Judge Doug Flanagan - who fires a bull's eye by saying the county "is in the education business, not the vacation business" - the school board has eliminated most "prior approval" absences.
Prior approvals, with rare legitimate exceptions, have been terribly abused by parents setting up family vacations in the middle of the school term. The county's school calendar, with an expanded number of mid-term breaks, is posted on the system's Web site (www.ccboe.net) through the 2008 school year. There is no excuse for anyone's failure to coordinate vacation with the school calendar.
The new code also establishes a stricter definition of truancy, and limits the number of times a parent can write a note to have their child's absence excused. As Judge Flanagan knows, quite often excessive student absences are aided and abetted by sorry parents. The new policy will help the school system, and the courts, hold parents accountable and keep children in school.
Once they're in, they'd better behave themselves, too. They certainly won't want to wind up attending the Columbia County Board of Education Alternative School; just saying the name is punishment itself.
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