Dress code passes first reading

June 18, 2003|by PEPPER BALLARD

The Washington County Board of Education on Tuesday approved 7-0 its first reading of Washington County Public Schools first-ever system-wide dress code.

The dress code, as proposed, would bar such clothing as see-through shirts, bandanas, pants that are excessively baggy and fall off the hips and bare feet.

Shulamit Finkelstein, co-chair of the Dress Code Task Force, said the need to establish a systemwide dress code came after the Citizens Advisory Council conducted a survey in 1999-2000 that showed various members of the school system and county community preferred a consistent code to one that varies from school to school.


School Board Vice President Paul W. Bailey said a consistent code should keep students from arguing about rules at their school that aren't enforced at other schools.

School Board Member Jacqueline Fischer said although she believes there always will be some variance between schools, the proposed code is the best the school system could develop.

The 1999-2000 Citizens Advisory Council "Appropriate School Dress Survey" questioned students, parents, community members, business people and school system staff.

As a result of that survey in the fall of 2002 a Superintendent's Advisory Council was formed. It was composed of teachers, administrators, parents, students, support staff, community and business people.

Members of the Washington County Association of Student Councils reviewed many school dress codes, read about uniforms and gathered input from their peers. The student government leaders then drafted dress codes and the consequences for students who violate them.

In January 2003 The Dress Code Task Force, made up of students, parents, teachers, counselors, administrators and business professionals, began to study and develop a systemwide policy.

Finkelstein said a draft of the proposed code was sent out to about 100 community members for their input and about 80 percent approved the draft.

School Board Member Russell Williams asked what the 20 percent of the population who objected to the code complained about.

Finkelstein said many who objected to the proposal argued that students should have maximum free choice. But she said that the task force looked into student rights and responsibilities versus those same rights and responsibilities held by the School Board.

She said that even though students do have freedom of speech, the school system, under the Annotated Code of Maryland, has an obligation to make sure there is discipline and order in its schools and the goal as a committee was to balance those needs in the proposed code.

Brian Williamson, who will be a junior at North Hagerstown High School and the student member to the School Board next year, said he thought the code was fair.

"It does enough to reduce the number of inappropriate dress being worn in school," he said.

Finkelstein said the adult and student members of the task force had an extensive discussion on flip-flops and decided not to ban them.

Bailey asked if there had been any mention during the task force's meetings about the styles of clothes on the market today and whether those clothes adhere to the dress code.

Finkelstein said the task force is open to more input.

The proposed code addresses the consequences for violating it. On a student's first offense, he or she will review the student handbook with an administrator or teacher and be required to adjust or change his or her clothes.

"It is expected that the first offense conference will prevent any further actions," the code states.

Should further offenses occur, students would be disciplined under the School Board's discipline policies and procedures.

The dress code would apply to all school activities during the school day, except for legitimate reasons such as a student's medical condition, religious practices or involvement in specialized classes or activities.

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