Tamaqua's dress code, adopted into policy in July 1995 and revised in April of last year, served as a key topic during last night's school board meeting.
"I'm here this evening because I feel that it's just going a little bit too far with the dress code, specifically with the shoe policy," said Lucy Gerace, who showed school board members two pairs of her daughter's shoes that were considered unacceptable.
"I understand that at the beginning of school year, there are shoe checks to make sure that the appropriate footwear is on, the laces were the right color, the socks were the right color, there were no polka dots, logos and those sort of things," she added. "As a mom, I think that is just a little bit too much and I'm asking you to reconsider."
Tamaqua's footwear policy of the district's dress code states:
Footwear must be worn at all times. Sneakers must be white, brown, black, gray, tan or navy with minimal variation. (Example: A pink Nike Swoosh on a white sneaker is acceptable.) Shoelaces must be the same color as the sneaker (Example: white sneakers must have white laces; black sneakers must have black laces). No pictures, patterns or words are permitted. Laces must be solid and match the primary sneaker color. Shoes and sneakers may not light up or have wheels. Shoes must have matching laces and must be close-toed. Shoes with excessive heels, boots and sandals are prohibited. All footwear must have a back that secures the shoe to the foot. Socks may be navy, black, brown, tan or white.
"The shoelaces, believe it or not, became a huge problem last year being patterned, being colored, being large," said Superintendent Carol Makuta. "When we looked to revise this at the end of the year, it made sense to a community of people to make it simple for the students by saying 'If the laces match the shoes, then that takes the guess work out of it.'"
"The idea of the dress code is to not differentiate between the 'haves' and 'have nots', the bullying, the identification of 'all of us in our clique are going to wear the same color this thing or that'," said school board President Larry Wittig. "Back when we instituted the dress policy, there were subtle ways that kids would use to identify themselves with a group. So we were looking for the simplest way to diffuse that."
"There are styles, there are things that are adapting," said high school Principal Stephen Toth, who added that the policy and school district have shown growth in that area. "We are trying to work with everybody as best as we can."
"In addition to adding gray, what we did was to specify and make it clearer what substantially or predominantly the other color was," said Wittig, explaining the recent revision.
"At times, it is the reasonable that don't comply," added Makuta. "So to relax the code for a pair of reasonable shoes opens that door for all the others on the list. We try to design the code so we can enforce it fairly and consistently.
"Every year, we (school board) revisit this to make sure that we are adjusting for the parents so that they can buy affordable things and that students have some choices," said Makuta. "We still have the intention of what we intended to do when we started dress code."
"I agree with you, it does seem petty," said Wittig to Gerace. "But when you keep on relaxing, then you have what you had before no dress code."
He added that it would be hard for school staff to enforce the policy differently from one year to next specifically for each child.
"When shoes come with shoe laces that don't match, that is an extra step and cost," said Gerace.
The school board replied saying that the district provides appropriately colored laces to students at no cost.
Board members, who sympathized with Gerace, said they, as parents, also have to deal with this at home, referring to their dinner table conversations.
Gerace, who has three children in the school district, said that some parents don't fully understand the order of repercussions if their child fails to abide by the dress code.
"First, a warning is given from a homeroom teacher, then a written warning from the office, then it is a phone call to parents, then finally detention," said Thomas McCabe, high school assistant principal, stating that students are given fair opportunities to correct their issues.
The school board added that a copy of the district's dress and grooming policy, which is also listed in the school handbook, can be viewed online at tamaqua.k12.pa.us or by stopping by any school office.
Gerace continued by asking, "Does it really matter? Is it that much of a distraction in the classroom if you have a child that has two colors on the shoe?"
"Again, we try to achieve an ultimate goal, which I think we have achieved. We are not trying to control everyone's lives, but this is one key consideration to help prevent unnecessary distractions in the classroom," said Wittig. "If students want to separate themselves, they can do it athletically or academically."