A new committee within the Jim Thorpe Area School District met for the first time last week to discuss the new dress code the district's board of education hopes to have in place by the 2010-2011 school year.
About 20 people showed up for the first meeting,
"We talked informally about some of the changes we'd like to make and why we want to be a bit more stringent," said L.B. Morris assistant principal David McAndrew, Jr., who heads up the committee. "Now, we're going to branch out to the PTAs. We met with the L.B. Morris PTA on Thursday of last week, and this week we're taking it to the other PTAs."
McAndrew made his report to the board during its meeting on Monday evening. He said that he was joined last week by Superintendent Barbara Conway and Jim Thorpe High School Principal Thomas W. Lesisko in a meeting with the school's Leadership Council. The council, which is made up of high school students, agreed to begin building awareness of the committee's efforts among the students in the district.
The district's goal is to roll out the new dress code next March, giving students and their parents plenty of time to buy the clothing they need for the following school year over the summer when winter fashions are sale priced. The committee will meet again on Oct. 29.
"I would just hope that any changes that are made include a directive on how any dress code policy would be enforced and by whom," said school board President Randall Smith. "I think the failure of any policy lies in its ability or inability to be enforced. So I think that needs to be part and parcel of the work that you're doing."
Smith thanked McAndrew for taking on what he called "a daunting task" that was "slightly controversial."
While there hasn't been much controversy over the dress code in the Jim Thorpe Area School District, there have been a number of districts nearby that have experienced a backlash from both parents and students regarding dress code decisions. Last year, Stroudsburg's school board met with significant resistance to its standardized dress code and nearby Pleasant Valley is currently in litigation over its efforts to enforce its own. Palmerton also had issues with its new dress code.
David L. Hudson Jr. is a First Amendment scholar working for FirstAmendmentCenter.org. He recently wrote about school dress codes for the Web site:
"Many school districts have turned to dress codes and uniforms to promote a better learning environment. They argue that these policies decrease tensions, reduce socio-economic differences and enhance safety. Others contend these dress codes are merely Band-Aid solutions that do not improve safety. Further, they charge that these policies infringe on students' First Amendment rights of free expression."
Hudson points out that the courts are still divided over the school dress code issue and have reached different results in different cases.
McAndrew hopes to short circuit such controversy by including more people in the work of finalizing the new code.
"We're hoping to bring more students and their parents to our meetings so they have a voice," McAndrews said. "We want their ideas on how we should roll this out."