Some Indianola students aren’t waiting for Halloween – or even afterschool hours – to wear cat ears, fox tails and collars with attached leashes.
At Monday’s regular meeting, the Indianola School Board heard from parents concerned about the accessories worn by youths who refer to themselves as “Furries.”
“I know we’ve changed the dress code a little bit,” Amye Shivers told board members during the public comment portion of the meeting. “We’ve eased the reins. … What happens when you ease the reins? It can kind of get a little bit out of control.”
It’s not clear why a small number of students are sporting animal-related attire, but it’s reportedly happening at both the middle school and high school.
“I can’t believe it’s widespread. … Popular culture/social media often influence fads and teen behavior,” Superintendent Art Sathoff said after the meeting.
Whatever the reason, it’s a distraction to other students, according to Shivers and her husband, Travis. They’ve noticed it with their child, they said, and have talked to other parents who share their concerns.
“There have been incidents at recess and other things that have caused problems. The first line says, ‘Students are expected to wear clothing that is appropriate for the classroom and does not disrupt the educational environment,’” said Travis, quoting the high school handbook.
“They’re bringing attention to themselves," he added. "It’s pretty cut and dry.”
The couple also pointed to lines further in the policy that read, “Sunglasses, costumes/costume accessories, and items not necessary for educational purposes are prohibited. ... Staff are encouraged to enforce these policies consistently and without regard to gender."
The dress code for the high school can be found on page 41 of the handbook found here on the Indianola Community School District website. Meanwhile, guidelines for middle school students can be located on pages 19-20 of that building’s handbook.
According to Amye Shivers, her concern is not only about removing distractions from the classroom, but ensuring that all students are treated equally.
“They are allowed to wear cat ears and fox tails,” she told the board, referring to youths in the “Furries” group, “while there are other students who wear a hood or baseball hat and are told that they have to take that off.”
Shivers also noted that students aren't simply wearing the accessories. The collar and leash are being used as such, a possible safety issue.
"The other thing that's been seen is wearing collars with a leash attached to it," she said. "They have other students leading them."
She said she emailed the principal, assistant principal and a counselor at the middle school with her misgivings this fall. The principal, Kristy Ellis, followed up with her again ahead of Monday's meeting, Shivers said later.
Last year, Shivers also contacted administrators at the high school when a similar situation arose there.
“It’s not just my kids that are being affected by it. It’s a concern,” Shivers said. “And the kids feel like, ‘Well, why? What can’t I wear this when they can go around like this?’
“So, trying to take any emotion out of it, you’re either breaking the rules or you’re not,” she continued. “If these kids are breaking the rules, they need to be held accountable. That’s it.”
After Monday’s meeting, Sathoff clarified that, moving forward, “there are policies and procedures in place to address things that become a distraction from learning.”
According to the high school handbook, "Students in violation of this policy will be asked to change their clothing to meet acceptable standards or they may be sent home."
What's more, "Continued deliberate violation of this policy may result in disciplinary action."
Later Monday evening, Shivers confirmed that “I’ve already had one school board member reach out to me tonight. … All we hope they do is keep the dress code held at expectation.”