BOE makes changes to dress code

Dec. 5—At their Dec. 1 meeting, the Cumberland County Board of Education unanimously voted to update the district's dress code policy in favor of loosening a few rules and giving more specific wording to others.

The changes will go into effect when students return from winter break on Jan. 4.

"This dress code policy covers all of our schools; we have 12 principals," Rebecca Hamby, 7th District representative, said at the Nov. 28 policy committee meeting determining the new guidelines. "In order for us to have something uniform, all need to work together."

The board's decision to examine their previous dress code was due to a complaint from parent Will Watts at their Sept. 22 meeting. At the meeting, Watts asked for more openness in the dress code, as his 9-year-old daughter's tendency to wear baggy sweaters and sweatshirts for comfort had repeatedly landed her in violation of the dress code policy.

"Being comfortable makes learning easier. If you're not able to be comfortable, it puts a burden on everybody," Watts told the board.

Looking at the changes that were made, the board seems to agree with Watts — the rule that caused his complaint has been updated in order to better suit students who like to wear oversized clothing.

Previously, the dress code stated that "ill-fitting clothing such as saggy/baggy pants or oversized coats, sweaters, sweatshirts, etc." were not permitted.

Now, the language has been changed to ban "ill-fitting clothing such as saggy/baggy pants or pants dragging the floor."

Originally, ill-fitting clothing was not permitted due to safety concerns, on the grounds that they could be used to conceal weapons or other items. In order to not completely do away with this safety measure, the rule states that "excessively oversized clothing including but not limited to coats and/or trench/duster style" is still banned.

Another step toward comfort in the new policy is pajamas. Students are still not permitted to wear full pajamas, such as onesies. However, the board's policy committee decided that completely banning "pajama type clothing" was a bit unfair, as many students may want to wear lounge pants made of fleece or flannel to keep warm in the winter. So, the rule only says "no pajamas," to ensure students can wear lounge pants if they please.

One major change is the complete removal of one rule: previously, students were not allowed to have a non-natural hair color, extreme hair style or makeup. Now, the rule has been done away with entirely. Piercings are also allowed, as long as they do not violate a rule in the policy that states "large heavy jewelry chains, and any jewelry that could be deemed harmful or dangerous, will not be permitted."

The language in the dress code's policy has also changed in the rules for shorts, skirt and dress length. Previously, the policy stated that without leggings underneath, none of these clothing items can be higher than five inches above the knee.

The new policy has replaced the phrase "5 inches above the knee" with "mid-thigh" and states that none of these clothing items shall be higher than mid-thigh from a "relaxed, standing position."

However, a few new rules have been added for clarity. One of the new rules, which was not previously a part of the dress code, states that no costume attire or distracting clothing is allowed, except on special dress days.

Another rule has been changed to be more specific — shirt/blouse length. Previously, the policy for this only stated that a shirt/blouse may not be so short that a student raising their elbows to the height of their shoulder exposes the midriff.

The new policy adds that all tops must cover at least 3 inches of the shoulder in order to not reveal the torso or undergarments. This measure additionally bans halter tops, tank tops, cropped tops and muscle shirts that reveal a bare midriff or lower back. The policy states, "no midriff bare skin should be visible while standing, sitting, or raising one's hand in class, or walking in the hallways."

Director of Schools William Stepp explained these guidelines were developed as a group effort by the administration across all schools in the county.

"We started talking with high school principals, and included all of the principals," Stepp said. "Some people had a certain view where they wanted to focus on academics, and some others had a stricter view. I think they were all pretty much centered."

The procedures for schools to follow when a students violates the dress code have also changed.

First and second violations will bear the same consequences as before:

First violation: The student will receive a written warning and the violation must be corrected.

Second violation: Parents will be notified; the violation must be corrected, and a detention will be assigned.

However, the procedure for third and subsequent violations is where more nuance is involved. Previously, a third violation meant the student would be suspended until a parent conference. Now, disciplinary action for third and subsequent violations are at the discretion of the school's administration, to add more flexibility depending on what the student's violations are.

"The way it works, the principal's discretion is within my intent," Stepp explained. "Are we perfect? No. Do we do corrective action? Yes."