On a recent afternoon, in a corner of a classroom at the old Kent School District, a young boy, sitting on a bench, wore a red t-shirt with a black “school” written across the front.
The word “T” was written over it.
A small black circle was drawn in a black circle, in red, in black, in blue.
This was a black-and-white tattoo, like many of the school districts students wear, except it was on their arms and faces.
It was a reminder of the day in December, 2008, when, at a school function, the district’s headmaster, Thomas V. Darden, told the students that they would have to wear red tshirts.
Denton, who was the district headmaster from 2006 to 2009, had a long history of being a staunch supporter of school dress codes.
He was also the school’s principal at the time.
As Darden spoke, the children, who were wearing red tshirt tops, sat down to sing their school songs, as they had done for years.
Some of the children even sang, “I’m going to do it in red.”
The district had instituted an early retirement policy for teachers, in which some teachers would retire in their 50s, and many had already retired in their 60s.
“The district has been in the middle of a reorganization for a few years now, so we have lots of kids who are in their late 20s and early 30s, some of whom were already in their mid-30s,” said Michael C. Korn, a principal at Kent School, a middle-class public school in Kent, Ohio.
“This is something that was just completely out of the blue.”
Korn and his colleagues decided to adopt the new policy as part of a plan to re-energise the school.
They set aside money for every teacher who had retired.
“It’s a pretty small amount, but we needed to get the kids involved,” Korn said.
“We were really hoping that this would be a catalyst for them to rejoin the school community.”
But the students in attendance had no idea that they were being instructed by a teacher who was not only the district superintendent, but also the head of the department that manages their uniforms.
A former Kent School principal told Al Jazeera that Darden told the district he was “trying to save the district” and that his goal was to “give the kids a better look at what they were wearing” and encourage them to wear clothes that looked “respectful and professional”.
Darden’s speech was not the only time that Denton and his team in Kent had tried to instill a dress code in students.
In 2006, the school was forced to change its dress code after students began to wear their hair in pigtails.
This year, the students are wearing their hair uncovered and have long hair, which Darden had told them would be “a little bit better” than the long-haired, unkempt hairstyles they had grown up with.
“Some of the kids are wearing hats now, and some of them are wearing a little bit of a punk rock kind of look,” said Korn.
“I think they just like to be cool.
They just don’t want to be dressed up like their parents.”
One student told the school board that he was uncomfortable with the school district’s dress code and had even asked to be removed from it, Korn added.
But despite the public outcry, the headmaster was able to stay in his job and continue to make the decision to introduce a dress-code policy in his school.
When the school went to the district board, the superintendent announced that he would introduce a new dress code for all of Kent’s public schools on Thursday.
A district board member told Aljazeera that Davenons team “tried to be very inclusive and not try to make a statement about anything”.
However, Darden himself was in charge of making the decision, as he had been for the past 15 years.
The district superintendent told AlJazeera that he had decided to introduce the new dress codes as a way to promote “good character and good school culture”.
Denton said that while it was “a bit ironic” that his district had become “a place of resistance to the new culture”, it was actually a way for him to make sure his staff were being treated fairly.
“When I started here, it was a very different environment,” he said.
He said that as a teacher, he had learned to deal with the negative feedback, but it had become a “burden” to deal only with negative feedback.
He added that he could not have handled the backlash better if he had tried harder.
“As I’ve learned, if you don’t deal with it, then it’s going to be a bigger problem,” he explained.
“And if you deal with that,