Rolla public schools's superintendent responds to suspension over T-shirt

The suspension of a Rolla High School student who wore a shirt that displayed biblical verses and words opposing homosexuality raised debate on social media websites over the weekend after a St. Louis television station reported on the incident Friday.
However, Rolla public schools’s superintendent has responded to the TV station’s report, clarifying that students are disciplined for wearing clothes that are disruptive, not because they have religious quotes written on them.
Dr. Aaron Zalis, superintendent of the Rolla Public Schools system, spoke with the Rolla Daily News by phone Monday morning about the school’s dress code policy and to clarify what he feels is misinformation.
“There’s always more than one side of an issue,” he said.
Zalis said he could not discuss details of the case, but it was reported that an RHS sophomore was suspended last week over a T-shirt that had text of Bible verses as well as the words, “Being gay ain’t right.”
The school district’s dress code policy states that a “student’s dress, personal appearance and grooming must not materially disrupt or detract from the educational process ....”
The code also states: “When faculty members or administrators feel that a student’s manner of dress serves as a potential disruptive influence to the school program or might be of embarrassment to individual students or teachers, they will hold a private conference with the student and counsel him/her privately regarding the inappropriateness of his/her attire.”
Violations of the district’s dress code range from an administrator conference to out-of-school suspensions to expulsion for more than three offenses. Students also can be sent home to change or cover the clothing in question.
“Students aren’t suspended for having biblical verses on their shirts,” Zalis said. “We have a lot of people who believe things ... but they don’t have the right to cause disruption to others.
“If you wear a shirt that says ‘I hate fat people’ or ‘I hate Muslims’ or ‘I love beer,’ that disrupts the order of school and you’re going to get talked to about it,” Zalis said.
Zalis also said when the TV station’s report quoted him as saying, “This is not that big of an issue,” that was taken out of context.
“These types of things happen periodically,” Zalis said. “This is one particular issue ... This particular incident is no different than some others circumstances.”
Zalis said the Rolla district has the same policies as about three-fourths of the school districts have across Missouri.
“Our dress code is pretty liberal. It's very similar to other school districts in the state,” Zalis said.
St. James R-1 School District Superintendent Joy Tucker said education comes first in a school setting.
"If any attire is going to disrupt the educational process, we have the right to ask them not to wear it," Tucker said. "The kids here have a right to an education, and if it's going to cause controversy, it doesn't need to be here."
The Rolla school district’s dress code is reviewed on a regular basis by a board policy committee made up of students, parents and administrators, according to Zalis.
Zalis said Rolla is a diverse community and that the district teaches tolerance and kindness in its schools.
“It’s a teachable moment,” Zalis said.
St. James Leader-Journal Editor Jim Brock contributed to this story.