LAKE PLACID — The Lake Placid Central School District School Board narrowly rejected a new district dress code policy that would have allowed high school students to wear hats in class.
The council voted 3-2 against the dress code amendments. Council members Martha Spear and Daniel Cash voted in favor of the new policy. Board members Joan Hallett-Valentine, Colleen Locke and board chairman Rick Preston voted against.
The board’s vote follows more than five months of analysis of the dress code by the school board, the district’s policy committee and an ad hoc committee created to revise the policy. Four students spoke out against the district’s current policy at a school board meeting last September, specifically raising issues with the district’s no-hat policy and what students viewed as discriminatory policies that sexualized young women. That night sparked the formation of the Ad Hoc Dress Code Committee – made up of students, district staff, and other district stakeholders – which made recommendations to change the dress code policy.
These recommendations were reviewed by the district’s policy committee, and the school board gave the changes two readings at two separate board meetings before voting against it.
The modified hat policy wasn’t the only recommendation rejected in the vote. The ad hoc committee also recommended that the current requirement that shirts be tucked in at the bottom be amended to indicate that the “The bottom hems of the tops should be able to naturally touch the waistband of the bottoms.” The committee also recommended that the visibility of bra straps not be considered a dress code violation and that appropriate procedures for responding to dress code violations be established.
LPCSD Superintendent Timothy Seymour said on Tuesday that while the hats appeared to be the main point of contention with the new policy, he did not want “throw the baby out with the bathwater” by voting against all the recommendations. Seymour said Wednesday that the school board could revisit the other recommendations in one of two ways: either the board could revisit the recommendations during its annual code of conduct review this summer, or the board could decide to vote again on dress code recommendations. with the redacted chapeau amendment.
The council discussed the recommended dress code policy on Tuesday before voting. Preston said he had been “flooded” with calls over the past two days from people concerned about the hat policy.
“I would say 100% are against kids having hats in school (class),” he told the school board.
The issue of hats was also raised by a teacher, council members said at their Feb. 22 meeting. As a result, the board decided to survey teachers about hats over the past two weeks, asking whether they wanted to allow or ban hats in their individual classrooms. Board member Colleen Locke said the vote was almost evenly split.
Preston said he was torn about the hat politics because he saw a “crooked” an answer that weighed heavily on people who didn’t want hats in school. He also saw the work put forward by the students and the speakers of the ad hoc committee.
“I’m kind of in a dilemma” Preston said. “As the meeting goes on, if you catch me staring into space, you’ll know why.”
Locke said she respected the process the committees followed with the dress code policy, adding that she wanted to support teachers who were not in favor of hats in the classroom. Locke said she didn’t know what teachers face on a daily basis and that some teachers might have voted against the hats because they influence the effectiveness of the teaching atmosphere.
Locke also felt that maintaining a no-hat policy would help the district prepare students for life after high school.
“One of the main things that comes out all the time is that we’re not preparing our students for the outside world,” said Locke. “And that doesn’t include cultural exposure or the size of the city they go to, it also includes issues like decorum and how they dress and how they come to school each day.”
Board member Daniel Cash said he thought the hat debate was representative of a “cultural gap between generations”. Cash said he worked in formal and informal jobs that required different dress codes, even when the job was the same. He said there are “real world” situations where people are relaxed and a hat wouldn’t make a difference.
“I feel like it’s a question that goes beyond whether or not it’s appropriate to wear a hat in a classroom,” Cash said.
Seymour noted that the dress code issue was not easy for anyone to discuss, and he sympathized with board members who would have to answer for their vote because “We’re knee-deep in culture wars here.” Seymour said negative comments about the hat policy were part of the review process.
“What comes to mind is that it’s part of the process, and community members who come forward as this issue has gained notoriety, when they might not have not done otherwise, are part of the process”, said Seymour. “So I think there’s going to be happy and/or disappointed people on both sides of the aisle, and the only consolation, if this policy doesn’t pass, for those who would like to see a change: I would say we’ve taken the pulse of the community, we’ve taken the pulse of the shareholders, and through all that effort, it hasn’t been a grand slam when it comes to data… From my perspective, it’s been part of the process.”
Seymour and Locke praised the district and everyone involved in the dress code review, with Locke highlighting the work of the students.
“As teenagers, they learn that there is a process when you have to push for things throughout your life,” she says. “It doesn’t always go your way, but it’s been a learning experience for them to present their ideas and thoughts…and I thank everyone for going through the process.”