Dress code to be debated at Newton Board of Education

Chad Frey
The Kansan

Dress code changes at Newton High School have become a hot button issue — one that was unresolved after the most recent board of education meeting and is sure to come up again.

Members of the public — both parents and students — are expected to speak on Tuesday after organizing an effort on social media. The board will meet at 7 p.m. June 22 in McKinley Adminstrative Center, 308 E. First. The high school handbook, which contains the dress code, is not on the agenda for that meeting.

A new dress code, which would be part of the student handbook, has not been approved by the board of education. The new handbook has not been formally presented to the board for approval.

But the dress code, in a way, has. It was part of the handbooks for Chisholm Middle School and Santa Fe 5/6 Center.

Levi Redington, current student council president at Newton High School, said Students for Racial Justice Club is seeking removal of things members believe are discriminatory.

Administrators told the board recently that while the proposed dress code contains fewer rigid guidelines, some of those rigid guidelines can actually make the rules more subjective and more difficult to enforce.

Rules like “fingertip length” with a students’ arm at their sides, or minimum width of a shoulder strap, can be problematic.

“Male administrators do not want to check a female student’s shoulders,” Redington said. “ ... Some people have long arms, some have short arms. Depending on your body type, it can be difficult to know what is appropriate, even with severe guidelines.”

The result is that a dress code cannot be uniformly enforced — and is difficult for students to navigate.

“Honestly, if you ask any student fifth grade to high school the biggest complaint they have always had is dress code, overall, in every way,” Redington said. “... From when the original dress code was written, times have definitely changed since then.”

A group comprised of students that meets to discuss social justice issues was involved in making recommendations for a new dress code during the school year. The group’s work began about two years ago, and an initial proposal was taken to the student council.

The student council worked with that proposal, making changes to what it saw.

"There was the phrase ’no restrictions of cleavage.’ We had to throw that out immediately,“ Redington said. ”There were issues that we saw with the original ... but we see what is proposed as a way for students to have a say in what this and have a way to change what they have had going on in their high school career, which just felt like administration cracking down on them the whole time.“

Students took a draft to building administration, which in turn gave recommendations for changes. The student council revised the draft, and it was reviewed again by administration before it was taken to the board.

“I am very supportive of the policy,” Caleb Smith, one of three new principals in the district and new principal at Newton High School. “I understand what (the board) is saying about parents understanding expectations. If you read things coming out with race tension ... this is the first spot that we as high schools and middle schools we can address that racial discrimination. There’s things inherently (discriminatory) in all of these policies you are reading (from other places).”

The proposed policy, which has not moved forward, was developed over the course of two years.

However, the board questioned school administrators on the subjectiveness of the proposed dress code.

“I think the recommendation is too subjective,” said board member Jennifer Budde. “I think we need to have more structure to it so it is actually enforceable. If we are too vague and open, it allows people to say we are discriminating against them.”

The code printed in last year’s handbook stipulated skirts or shorts must be longer than the fingertips with the arms extended to the side and that administration will determine appropriate length. It also stipulated all exposed straps must be at least 2 inches in width.

“A lot of the reasoning, the whys behind it is racial discrimination and body shaming that was happening when trying to enforce the current policy,” Smith said.

The dress code debate, both in the building at the board of education, was spurred on after a student protest of discrimination led to dress code violations that students said were not uniformly applied and saw varied disciplinary levels applied to like offenses.

Students who wore bandannas to school in protest of discrimination at the school, a dress code violation under the old dress code. The proposed dress code removes restrictions on headwear at the high school level.

The proposed dress code imposes limits — students are not allowed to wear strapless tops; clothing containing violent language , violent images, hate speech, profanity, pornography, depictions of drugs, depictions of alcohol, depictions of illegal activity; bathing suits; headgear that obscures the face except for religions observances; wallet chains; or wallet spikes. The dress code also dictates that underwear cannot be visible while stating that waistbands or straps on undergarments won under other clothing does not represent a violation of the dress code.

The proposed dress code follows.

Proposed dress code

Newton 5-12

Our values are:

No "distractions" without regulating individual students' clothing/self-expression.

• All students should be able to dress comfortably for school without fear of or actual unnecessary discipline, body shaming, or bullying by anyone.

• All students and staff should understand that they are responsible for managing their own personal

• Students should not face unnecessary barriers to school attendance.

• Enforcement of this dress code must be universal among all students.

• Reasons for conflict and inconsistent discipline should be minimized whenever possible.

Goals of a student dress code

• A student dress code should accomplish several goals:

• Maintain a safe learning environment in classes where protective or supportive clothing is needed, such as science (eye or body protection), dance (bare feet, tights/leotards), or PE (athletic attire/shoes).

• Allow students to wear clothing of their choice that is comfortable.

• Allow students to wear clothing that expresses their self-identified gender.

• Allow students to wear religious attire without fear of discipline or discrimination.

• Prevent students from wearing clothing with offensive images or language, including profanity, hate speech and pornography.

• Prevent students from wearing clothing with images or language depicting or advocating violence or the use of alcohol or drugs.

• Ensure that all students are treated equitably regardless of gender/gender identification, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, body type/size, religion, and personal style.

• Ensure that all students are protected from body shaming by administration and staff

Dress code policy

• The primary responsibility for a student’s attire resides with the student and parents or guardians. The school district and individual schools are responsible for seeing that student attire does not interfere with the health or safety of any student, and that student attire does not contribute to a hostile, distracting or intimidating atmosphere for any student.

• Students should be given the most choice possible in how they dress for school. Any restrictions must be necessary to support the overall educational goals of the school.

• Basic principle: Certain body parts must be covered for all students. All items listed in the “must wear” and “may wear” categories below must meet this basic principle. These requirements are universal and must be enforced consistently and universally.

• The determination of what is considered gang related and/or dangerous will be up to the interpretation of the school resource officer and USD 373 administration.

Students must wear:

• Shirt that covers stomach and chest

• Bottom: pants/sweatpants/shorts/skirt/dress/leggings

• Shoes; activity-specific shoes requirements are permitted (for example for sports)

* High-school courses that include attire as part of the curriculum (for example, professionalism, public speaking, and job readiness) may include assignment-specific dress.

Students may wear:

• Headbands, wraps, and sports bands. Hats allowed grades 9-12 only.

• Hoodie sweatshirts (if ears are visible and person is identifiable)

• Fitted pants, including leggings, yoga pants and “skinny jeans”

• Ripped jeans, as long as underwear is not exposed.

• Tank tops, including spaghetti straps and halter tops.

• Athletic attire

Students cannot wear:

• Violent language or images.

• Bathing suits.

• Strapless tops

• Images or language depicting drugs or alcohol (or any illegal item or activity) or the use of the same.

• Hate speech, profanity, pornography

• Images or language that creates a hostile or intimidating environment based on any protected class.

• Visible underwear (i.e. sagging). Visible waistbands or straps on undergarments worn.

• Helmets or headgear that obscures the face (except as a religious observance).

• Wallet chains or spikes.