The potential switch to a uniform dress code in the Palmerton Area School District has been met with vehement opposition by parents and students alike.
At least, that was the general consensus voiced by a large segment of a crowd of about 50 visitors who attended a special meeting of the school board on Wednesday.
The special meeting was held in response to a request by junior high school Principal Thaddeus Kosciolek, who last week said he believed the matter needed to be revisited because instances where the dress code is violated has only continued to escalate.
Kosciolek also said at that time he hoped the district would consider the adoption of a dress code similar to one adopted by the Tamaqua Area School District. He said Panther Valley and Pleasant Valley school districts have also adopted new dress codes.
On Monday, Jim Thorpe Area School District became the latest to adopt a new dress code for its students that will go into effect at the start of next school year.
Larry Wittig, president of Tamaqua Area School Board, attended the special meeting to discuss the successful dress code that was implemented in the Tamaqua Area School District five years ago.
With about 2,300 students, Wittig said Tamaqua has a similar student enrollment to that of Palmerton.
While Tamaqua's administration at that time suggested a uniform dress code for high school students only, Wittig said the board suggested it should be K-12.
Through private donations and the like, Wittig said uniforms were provided to students who otherwise couldn't afford them.
Further, he said the cost to switch to a uniform dress code was "exceptionally inexpensive", and that years after the uniform dress code has been implemented, there have virtually been no problems.
"From the perspective of how students act, they act differently," Wittig said. "In our school, it has taken away distractions from learning."
Wittig told those in attendance that any reservations they may have about a uniform dress code would cease to exist if they would simply accept them.
"It helps with distractions, teachers not having to check for uniforms," he said. "When you have a strict policy in place, one to two years later, they will accept it."
Resident Christine Wentz, who said she has children who attend school in Palmerton, said that just because she can afford to clothe her kids doesn't mean it's fair that students whose families can't should receive free uniforms.
Wittig said the reason why Tamaqua provided uniforms to those who couldn't afford them was to make the transition run as smooth as possible.
"Ultimately, the fact is it is much, much cheaper in the long run to have uniforms," he said. "I can say that factually."
Resident Keri Henry then asked Wittig why colleges don't require their students to follow a specific dress code.
However, Wittig said there's a major difference between the two.
"The difference in public education is we're using your money to educate the students," he said. "We are preparing them for a respectable presentation for wherever they want to go."
Resident Michael Lewis, who has several children who attend school in Palmerton, told Wittig he didn't agree with most of what he said.
"Students have the right to dress any way they want to dress," Lewis said. "We're taking the right for the students to be free and dress the way they want to."
Resident Lisa McGowan said it isn't the clothes that makes an individual.
"Clothes do not make you who you are," McGowan said. "It's your attitude that makes the person."
Kosciolek said there have been too many instances where students refused to follow the district's dress code policy.
"There's been problems with the students pushing the limits," he said. "It's a daily battle."
Kosciolek said he's in favor of a uniform dress code policy.
"I'm quite frankly disappointed with how a good portion of our students dress," he said. "It's just a great way to go; I'm really certain of it."
Resident Tiffani Christman, a parent who has several children enrolled in the district, asked what kind of effect the uniform dress code has had on Tamaqua's PSSA scores.
Wittig said Tamaqua students have performed better on tests since the uniform dress code had been implemented.
"Our AYP has gone up every single year. Is it because of that? I won't say that," he said. "But, I can say bullying, fighting and drug use is down."
But, Christman said she didn't believe those students who do follow Palmerton's dress code should have to suffer because of the actions of others.
"I just don't understand why we're here," she said. "The vast majority (of students) are adhering to the district's dress code; it's just a couple of people."
Wittig said his belief is that a uniform dress code alleviates any ambiguities when it relates to student dress.
"If you say 'wear this', the conversation is over," he said. "When you say it's this and this, then that's the way it is."
Director Susan Debski asked Wittig whether there have been any negative effects from Tamaqua's switch to a uniform dress code.
Wittig said he couldn't recall any, and added that he believes "strongly that a uniform dress code would enhance the educational environment."
"A few students in the first year pushed the envelope, but since then, it hasn't been a problem at all," he said. "I talk to a lot of people in the district, and I have not talked to anyone in the district who would want to go back (to the original dress code)."
Wentz said she believes that if students are to follow a specific dress code, than so, too, should teachers.
Kathy Egan, Palmerton Area High School principal, said she also believes a uniform dress code should be adopted in the district.
"It's something that distracts from the educational program," Egan said. "This way, we're all on a somewhat level playing field."
Palmerton Area School Board President Barry Scherer told the audience the purpose of the meeting was to serve as a platform for parents and students to share their views on the matter.
"We need to know the feelings of the parents and students if we go to this policy," Scherer said. "The whole issue of a uniform dress code policy is so that you don't have those kinds of things happening."
Debski said she believes it would be worth everyone's best interest to hear things out before they completely rule the idea out.
"There seems to be this division; we need to start working as a team," she said. "Let's try to approach this, that this might help the problem."
Mary Brumbach, S.S. Palmer Elementary/Parkside Elementary School principal, said that while the problem isn't as prevalent at the elementary schools, some younger students have at times dressed inappropriately.
"There are a lot of advantages to wearing uniforms," Brumbach said. "It's much more cost effective, and much easier for students."
Scherer, who said the board has not yet made a decision on the matter, attempted to clear up a common misconception.
"It's not a uniform, it's a uniform dress policy," he said. "There's a difference."
Several other parents, many of whom have large families, said a uniform dress code would only make things more difficult from a financial perspective.
Resident Bill Strauch, a parent who has a daughter in the district, said he believes the matter is a "lose-lose thing for everybody
"It's difficult," Strauch said. "But, I do applaud the board for taking on an issue like this."
Scherer then said while the matter won't be rehashed, it could be revisited at the committee workshop on May 4.
The dress code has been a source of controversy in Palmerton since last year, when the district agreed to clear the records of 20 high school students who had been reprimanded for wearing T-shirts critical of the school dress code.
At the request of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, the district in October agreed to clear the records of the students who wore "Property of PHS" T-shirts to class.
Also as part of that agreement, the district decided to expunge the students' records, allowed them to make up classroom assignments and quizzes that were missed because of the school's disciplinary action, and to wear the shirts in the future without fear of retaliation.
Palmerton's current dress code policy states that students are to "maintain certain standards of cleanliness and decency."
The policy also states that "shorts may be worn; however, they need to be in good taste and not the type that are typically worn for gym class. Also, clothing which advertises drugs and/or alcohol and clothing with any type of double meaning will not be permitted."
As for jewelry and other adornments, "earrings and body rings worn at locations other than the ears are not allowed. Specifically, those worn in the nose, eyebrow, tongue, cheek, or any other visible location beside the ears are not acceptable.
The piercing of body parts and the insertion of jewelry or other objects which result in bleeding, oozing of bodily fluids, or other physical condition which may reasonably pose a danger to the student or others is considered inappropriate and unacceptable."
In addition, there are to be "no chains worn other than those designed as a necklace or bracelet, accessories containing spikes of any sort shall not be permitted, and hair coloring of a fluorescent or nontypical color shall not be permitted."
Also, "accessories deemed to be distractive, disruptive, or offensive in nature are prohibited, adornments which tend to mar or damage school property or which can be used as a weapon are not allowed, nor are adornments that prevent the student from achieving his/her own educational objectives because of blocked vision or restricted movement."
The policy also states that students "may be required to wear certain types of clothing while participating in physical education classes, shops, labs, extra-curricular activities, or other situations where special attire may be required to ensure the health or safety of the student."