MERIDEN — If the Board of Education adopts the recommendations of a committee made up of students, teachers, administrators and Board of Education members, the school district could see its dress code relaxed.
On Monday evening, the 21-member Ad Hoc Dress Code Committee considered those recommendations, which include proposed language that would relax current restrictions against wearing head coverings that are not religious in nature, religious clothing exterior, certain shoes, blouses and shirts, and other articles of clothing in school buildings.
For example, students would be allowed to wear a head covering, as long as it does not “cover a student’s face or prevent them from being identified by staff or peers,” according to the wording. proposed dress code that the committee discussed. Current policy prohibits all head coverings except for head coverings worn as part of a student’s religious practice.
Another section of the proposed policy regarding the types of blouses and shirts students would be allowed to wear would remove current wording that specifies the length of suspenders that would be allowed. Instead, it states that shirts should adequately cover most of a student’s stomach. Underwear must also not be obvious or visible through clothing and may not be worn as outerwear.
Proposed language around clothing that is considered form-fitting was an area that educators found problematic and potentially unenforceable. This wording was eventually deleted from the proposed policy.
Platt High School social studies teacher and committee member Drew Blythe and others discussed the importance of maintaining positive relationships with students. When a dress code is difficult to enforce, it “brings conflict where conflict shouldn’t have been there otherwise,” Blythe said.
MaryLou Woods, a science teacher at Washington Middle School, agreed, saying sometimes students may have ill-fitting clothes because they are “passed down” to them as their families may face economic hardship. Woods said the proposed dress code policy is a step in the right direction.
“We have to be aware that clothes are passed on to them” and students may not “have access to the right size clothes,” Woods said, adding that she was concerned about enforcement.
“The other concern is to be enforceable,” Woods said, adding that this needs to be addressed with language that doesn’t promote hostility.
One area committee members agreed on is that teachers in classrooms, for example chemistry labs and workshops, where safety is a concern, should have the ability to restrict certain items, such as shoes to open toe, depending on these concerns.
The proposed revision regarding skirts, shorts, dresses and pants would also simplify this language. If passed, it would state that clothing “shall not be sheer or see-through. Underwear and/or intimate body parts should not be obvious or visible through clothing. Tears or holes that expose underwear or are above mid-thigh are not acceptable. »
The recommendation followed the group’s discussion of a dress code survey that was administered across the district in early March. More than 2,400 students, 1,023 parents and 602 staff members responded to the 18-question survey.
Although different groups of survey respondents did not agree on all questions, they generally agreed on some elements of the survey: clothing that displays vulgar messages and see-through clothing are not allowed .
At one point, Monday night’s discussion focused on whether allowing outdoor clothing would pose a security threat.
Ryan Rosario, a student representative from Platt High School, said he didn’t believe him. And staff, he noted, are able to tell if students are trying to conceal items “quickly enough.”
Overall, Rosario and Isabella Valentino, another student representative from Maloney High School, agreed that they were happy with the wording of the proposed policy.
For example, Valentino noted, the policy as proposed allows students to wear devices, such as headphones and earphones in classrooms, if there is an educational purpose in allowing them.
Valentino described the current policy as “too strict”.
Other school districts’ dress codes and school uniform policies have come under public scrutiny in recent years, particularly when they have led to harsh disciplinary action being taken for students who violate them.
For example, in April 2017, more than 150 students at Wilby High School in Waterbury were suspended during a dress code sweep day in which these students violated their district’s policies. Waterbury is one of a number of urban school districts statewide that have strict school uniform policies.
Most of the suspensions were later overturned, US Republican and other media reported at the time.
In Meriden, before the start of the 2018-2019 school year, a small group of parents circulated a petition asking school officials to consider a uniform policy. Families in favor of such a policy argued that it would prevent bullying based on students’ socioeconomic status and benefit families struggling to afford new clothes. This petition ultimately did not garner enough support to persuade district leaders to come up with a uniform policy.
Meriden School Superintendent Mark D. Benigni, at the time of this petition, argued that school uniforms do not actually impact student achievement or school climate.
“Whether you wear a uniform or whatever clothes you choose, it’s great teaching and students invested in their learning that will make a difference in moving the academic needle,” Benigni said. “Do I want students to have choice and feel comfortable every day? Yes.”
Benigni said he was very pleased that the Board of Education made the decision to consider revising the dress code. He also appreciates the feedback the district has received from students, families and staff.
During Monday’s discussion, Benigni and other members of the ad hoc committee often stressed the importance of having a policy that is clear, simple and understood by all.
This would reduce the likelihood of teachers being placed in a situation where they are seen as “stricter than others in enforcing policies,” Benigni said.
Benigni said one-size-fits-all policies don’t work. Districts that have them “face more discipline issues.”
“I’m confident that by providing greater latitude,” Benigni said, “it’s really a policy that will support all students in the process.”