School board discusses dress code, discipline
March 24, 2011 at 9:05 p.m.
Updated March 23, 2011 at 10:24 p.m.
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A Cade Middle School student petitioned the school board explaining he should be allowed to wear a cape because it is not strictly forbidden in the dress code.
Nancy McCord, assistant superintendent, explained the district has a higher number of students sent to disciplinary alternative education programs than other districts. Nearly 450 students, mostly male Hispanics and special education students, were placed in the alternative settings.
The definition of a coat was a point of discussion at the school board's regular meeting Thursday as it reviewed recommendations for changes to the dress code.
The dress code states that outwear, jackets and coats may not contain logos or graphics other than school-spirited ones. Administrators definitions for what "outwear" really meant differed from school to school.
"The dress code was so vague they had already established their own interpretations," said Nancy McCord, who presented a list of changes recommended by principals. "They're not wanting to loosen it up but maybe even to tighten it up a little bit to make it clearer and easier."
Tami Keeling, board president, said the definition of a coat was unclear since some heavy sweaters or hoodies were considered outwear (and could be patterned or worn untucked) at some campuses and not at others.
"I had a hard time with that: What was a coat?" she asked.
The administrators recommended to add that all hoodies, outerwear, jackets and coats should only be a solid color.
East High School Principal Greg Crockett was against the recommendation saying many low-income families may only have one coat that is used for several years.
"How often do we ourselves go out and buy a new jacket," he said. "Now we're asking some of our at-risk families who are on very limited incomes who may only have one jacket to last them several years."
West High School Principal Debbie Crick defended the recommendation.
"When kids are allowed to wear the camo jackets, then very quickly they were coming in with camo shirts," she said.
The board did not vote on the change, but could vote to add the recommendations at a later meeting.
McCord also presented drastically uneven numbers of referrals because of dress code violations. West High School had nearly 450 referrals while East High School had slightly less than 50.
"Somebody's swinging a hammer," board member Michael DiSanto said.
Patti Welder Magnet Middle School had about 175 and Stroman Middle School had slightly less than 50.
"I think once we take some of the discrepancies of what is and what is not a jacket we'll take some of those discrepancies out," Keeling said.
McCord also gave a round of disciplinary reports.
"A really good trend that we've been seeing over the years is a decrease in our substance abuse incidents," she said.
Since 2008, the district has seen a decrease in drug abuse incidents moving from 160 in 2008 to slightly more than 80 for this school year. There were about 20,000 discipline referrals last year compared to about 14,000 as of this week. As of Wednesday, the most amount of discipline referrals were at Stroman Middle School, which had about 65 for fighting and Patti Welder Magnet Middle School which had about 55. Assaults were the highest at Cade Middle School with about 45 and Stroman Middle School with about 32.
The board voted to approve a new early-college center at Liberty Academy. The program, funded by a $3 million grant, will start in the fall with 100 freshmen. The district will work with Victoria College and students will be able to earn up to an associate degree while earning a diploma at the same time.
"Hats off to you guys for getting the grant done and doing the work," Keeling said.