Cape school officials prepare for transition to new dress code policy

Wednesday, February 29, 2012
Students model uniforms in front of the potential uniform policy Monday night, January 9, 2012 during the first of two public forums at the Cape Junior High School auditorium to discuss the possibility of instating a uniform policy at Cape Public Schools. (Laura Simon)

Although "strike and amend" emerged as a theme Monday night for the Cape Girardeau School Board's work on a dress code proposal for students, district staff began planning ahead early Tuesday morning for moving to a new policy.

Carla Fee, principal of Cape Girardeau Central Junior High School and chairwoman of the staff committee that created the original dress code proposal, said an administrative staff meeting was held Tuesday to discuss challenges for staff relating to enforcement with the newly-approved policy. They also discussed plans for creating effective disciplinary methods in all buildings for dress code violations.

School board members amended the committee's proposal heavily before voting to pass it into policy during Monday night's meeting. Sixteen of 25 requirements dealing with student dress were cut or placed in other sections of the proposal by board members. Nearly all language relating to discipline was also struck from the policy. The board did not remove a section stating the school should attempt to contact a student's parent to determine whether the student has dress code appropriate clothing and that the parent should bring the clothing to school.

Discussions between district staff on how and when to implement a stricter dress code or uniform policy began in the fall, when school officials said they wanted to address problems with the district's existing dress codes being inconsistent between buildings and too vague.

A staff committee formed and developed a proposal to require students to wear solid-color collared shirts and khaki, black or navy bottoms, but the final policy approved by the board Monday showed only a glimpse of the original proposal after the board was through.

Beginning in August, students have the option of wearing collared shirts or turtlenecks in any solid color; a school-oriented T-shirt, sweatshirt or hoodie; or solid-colored vests, sweaters, sweatshirts or pullovers with an approved shirt underneath. On bottom, students must wear pants, shorts, capris, skorts and jumpers in any solid color; blue jeans or a solid-color dress with sleeves and a collar or a high-crew neck. Logos will be allowed on clothing as long as they are smaller than 1 1/2 inches, and various requirements apply to fit, style and condition of clothing items and accessories. Belts must be worn by middle through high school students.

Fee said the committee is disappointed with some of the board's amendments, but staff that were in support of a stricter policy are ready to move on from the dress code issue and prepare to educate parents and students on what will be required of them when the policy goes into effect at the start of the next school year.

"I'm glad that they have voted and this has been decided," Fee said. "It's better than what we have now -- more challenging, absolutely, but we'll work with it," Fee said.

Fee and assistant high school principal Nancy Scheller, who also served on the committee, expressed concern that the board's decision to make many amendments to their proposal, including one to allow jeans, could make the new policy difficult for teachers to enforce.

"I was disappointed," Scheller said. "We had struggled for many hours and days over what they [the school board] struggled with last night, really. We came up with what we thought was best for our schools, but this is what we have and we are going to put it in place and do the best we can. Any help is good help."

School board president Stacy Kinder said the board knew going into the meeting Monday that there were specific concerns over the proposal held by the community, administrators, staff and students, and that board members tried their best to make amendments to the proposal but still come out with a policy that would work for all.

"I can't imagine that everyone is 100 percent satisfied with what we ended up with, but I think we will be in a better situation than what we had," Kinder said.

The board's decision to allow jeans was based on knowing that most, if not all, students in the district already own them, Kinder said. Still, the board decided to outweigh knowing that jeans have been known to cause problems for administrators when it comes to enforcement with the fact that including jeans would make adhering to the new policy easier for students and their families, she said.

Embellishments and designs are allowed on jeans, but the policy states all clothing shall be clean, in good repair and shall have no tears, holes or cuts. Limiting the color to blue for jeans was another strategy of the board to control what types of jeans students can wear. The board's requirements on jeans echoed the request of parents like Sheila Long, who spoke to the board in the public comment section of the meeting Monday night. She requested that the board allow jeans, but outlaw rips and tears and jeans that are saggy or skintight.

Kinder said she wants the board's decision to allow jeans to prompt students to dress more responsibly for school.

"I am hopeful that our students will understand that this is a privilege. They need to be mindful of that, because we can't continue to have the problems we are having," she said. "The message our students need to have is that we have taken this all very seriously, and we would like to see a collective effort from them to do better."

Fee said the district plans for its secondary schools to work together to come up with a more consistent approach to how to discipline for dress code violations while elementary schools will work on a similar plan. She said staff wants discipline to be as consistent as possible districtwide so that parents who have children in multiple schools aren't getting mixed messages and know there is some difference between elementary and secondary discipline measures. Discipline at the elementary level will be handled differently because of the age of children and their limited level of personal responsibility versus that of an older student, she said.

Fee said she believes there will be less of a need for placing ways to assist students with obtaining clothing to meet the dress code policy with the amendments that were made, but staff will still make an effort to have clothing items on hand for students who need them. If the board had passed the committee's proposal as written, there were plans for placing a uniform closet in each district building to help students and their families that could not afford some required items.

Scheller said discipline for dress code violations will look much the same as other disciplinary methods at the high school, which use system of graduated consequences, such as after-school detention and in-school suspension. But Scheller said she was unsure how those methods will work when it comes to dress code violations.

"The constraints have been put on there. and that will help us some," she said. "Hopefully that will make a difference. Next year will tell if we are headed in the right direction."

eragan@semissourian.com

388-3627

Pertinent address:

301 N. Clark Ave., Cape Girardeau, MO

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