Potential changes to Palmerton Area School District's dress and groom policy may not be implemented in time for this coming school year.
District administrators, teachers, and several parents from each of the five buildings in the district joined forces with the school board's Policy Committee on Thursday.
The board's policy committee is comprised of directors Darlene Yeakel, Tina Snyder, Susan Debski and Stuart Henritzy. They were joined by high school Principal Kathy Egan, junior high school Principal Thaddeus Kosciolek, Towamensing Elementary Principal Gary Bruch and S.S. Palmer Elementary/Parkside Education Center Principal Mary Brumbach, as well as several teachers and parents who represented each of the five buildings in the district.
The meeting was the first in a series of four to discuss the policy. Other meetings have been scheduled for 6 p.m. July 8, 15, and 29.
Before the discussion, Yeakel told the group they would be separated into four teams, each of which would create a policy. Those four policies would then be turned in to the board's policy committee by the end of the meeting, she said.
"Next week, we'll attempt to combine those four policies into one, and that one will be given to the [district's] solicitor," Yeakel said. "The following week [July 15], we should be able to review the first reading."
Snyder again reiterated her stance as she expressed during previous discussions on the matter.
"I'm not in favor of the whole, 'you have to wear this kind of pants', 'you have to wear this kind of shirt,'" Snyder said. "I do believe we need to have stricter guidelines."
However, Snyder said she doesn't believe those revisions need to be overly restrictive.
"Basically, it's just are we covering the proper parts," she said. "I don't want it to be 'this is what you have to be, a certain color, a certain type of shirt.'"
Debski suggested "upping the consequences so that we don't have to do this again next year."
"I feel that we cannot enforce this right away," Debski said. "That would exempt the graduation Class of 2011."
But, junior high school teacher Kim Seiler said she favors a dress code.
"All these schools are moving to a dress code; why are we not moving to a dress code," Seiler said. "As a teacher, it would be so much easier for us to do our jobs."
High school teacher Jose Elvir said he believes there are pros and cons to the idea.
"I love diversity," Elvir said. "The problem is not the students; the problem is us, the teachers and parents. If we do not enforce the rules, they can get away with everything."
Elvir said that if the district were to implement a uniform dress code, he believes it should wait another year.
"Let's have plenty of time to review this," he said. "The majority of our students follow the rules; why are we going to punish those who do."
Junior high school teacher Amy Morgan said she believes way too much time is spent monitoring what students wear.
"I do it, it's my job, but when you have to do it on a daily basis, it really takes away my ability to educate," Morgan said. "You put yourself out on a limb. I think we need to have stricter guidelines, because the way things are going, it causes disruption for me, and for the students."
High school teacher Kerry Palumbo said she recently sent out an email to high school teachers and received about a dozen responses.
"I can say with certainty that most of us would welcome a standardized dress code," Palumbo said. "From personal experience, you can tell them over and over again, but these kids will find a loophole and they will exploit it."
Palumbo said she visited The Hanger, a new shop in the Carbon Plaza Mall, which said it would work with the district and supply it with the necessary clothing.
"Many of us [high school teachers] feel it's too soon to create a dress code for the start of this [school] year because it would create a hardship," she said. "But we believe the action is in the best interest of the district to go to a dress code."
Egan said she believes a uniform dress code would better enable administrators to look out for the "safety and welfare of the students."
"As an administrator, you hired us as educational leaders to focus on curriculum, instruction, and assessment," Egan said. "A dress uniform policy is what I think administration is looking for."
Kosciolek said he believes the district needs to trust the judgment of its administration.
"The administration came to the board with a recommendation," Kosciolek said. "I just think we need to be more specific."
Brumbach said its important to keep in mind that as public educators, the district is "obliged to do what's best for the kids."
"Change is not easy; no matter what we come up with, we're going to have people that aren't happy," Brumbach said. "The biggest problem I see we're going to have is enforcement with a standardized dress policy."
Further, Brumbach said that "school is not a fashion show."
"I think having a standardized dress policy will shore things up," she said. "I think we have to respect the judgment of our administrators, as well as neighboring school districts [who have switched to a uniform dress code]."
Yeakel suggested that the district create a policy that would call for "zero tolerance" for students who fail to comply with the dress code from the time they enter the building.
At a special meeting last month, the board agreed to form the committee to review the district's dress and groom policy.
Some of the proposed changes to the dress code policy discussed at that time would not allow flip flops, no noticeable underwear, no bare midriffs, no cleavage, no sweat pants, warmups or windbreakers, heels only up to 2-inches, skirts are to be knee-length, shorts are to be no more than 2-inches, and no holes in clothing, among others.
The board held brief conversation on the matter of hair color, but no proposed changes appeared to have been made with regard to that issue.
The dress and grooming policy was discussed at a board committee meeting in June, when it was decided that a special meeting was needed to revisit the matter.
Before that, the board in April held a special meeting in response to a request by Kosciolek, who said he believed the matter needed to be revisited because instances where the dress code is violated continue 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.
Larry Wittig, president of Tamaqua Area School Board, attended that special meeting to discuss the successful dress code that was implemented in the Tamaqua Area School District five years ago.
Jim Thorpe Area School District last month adopted a new dress code for its students that will go into effect at the start of next school year.
Kosciolek said that in instances where students are in violation of the dress code, parents are called and asked to bring in something else to wear. If not, the students are placed in in-school suspension, he said.
Egan said the school has extra Palmerton Blue Bomber T-shirts, which students have the option to wear. Egan added at that time that a current problem pertains to the length of shorts worn by girls in the high school, where she said about 50 percent are not in compliance.
Based on the suggestions he heard from the committee, as well as the public who were on hand, board President Barry Scherer said the district will attempt to tighten up the policy, instill the consequences, and track the number of incidents.
The committee also discussed the possible formation of a districtwide committee to review the policy at some point. Kosciolek then asked the committee for time to come up with suggestions to make the policy more specific.