Palmerton Area School District may consider a districtwide dress code in time for the start of next school year.
The issue was raised by junior high school Principal Thaddeus Kosciolek during the school board's Curriculum, Athletics, Personnel and Policy Committee meeting on Tuesday.
Kosciolek said that while last year's policy helped with jewelry and piercings, the matter has only continued to escalate to the point where it's become a "daily occurrence."
"Last year's policy helped with jewelry and piercings, but things have gotten worse," Kosciolek said. "It's become an every day issue where two or three students are sent to the office, and it's also a problem at the high school in speaking with [Principal] Mrs. [Kathy] Egan."
Kosciolek said he hoped the district would consider the adoption of a dress code similar to one adopted by Tamaqua Area School District. He said Panther Valley and Pleasant Valley also approved new dress codes recently.
"It's just an uncomfortable situation," he said. "I think there's a real strong need."
Committee member Tina Snyder told Kosciolek she had a problem with students wearing pants to school when the weather is warm.
"I know temperatures in the classrooms get to be in the 80s," Snyder said. "It gets real hot."
Regardless, Kosciolek said he believes the students would adjust to the new dress code over time.
"You can express you individuality outside of school in the summer," he said. "I don't think there's a big issue between wearing shorts or pants as far as temperature in the classroom."
Resident Kim Long, who said she has a son who attends school at the junior high, implored the committee that if it's going to require the students to abide by a dress code, that teachers should have to as well.
"If you're going to put a dress code on students, how about teachers? "I don't appreciate my son and his friends coming home and telling me what color underwear his teacher has on."
Superintendent Carol Boyce said that teachers would also be required to follow the dress code as well.
The committee announced a special meeting solely to discuss the dress code will be held sometime between now and May 11.
At the recommendation of Boyce, the committee agreed to invite Larry Wittig, president of the Tamaqua Area School Board, to attend that meeting.
Boyce said Wittig has offered to discuss the successful dress code that was implemented at Tamaqua several years ago.
The matter became a source of controversy last year that resulted in the school district agreeing to clear the disciplinary records of 20 high school students who had been reprimanded for wearing T-shirts critical of the school dress code.
In October, the district agreed to clear the records of the students who wore "Property of PHS" T-shirts to class at the request of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania.
Also at that time, the district agreed to expunge the students' records, allow them to make up classroom assignments and quizzes missed because of the school's disciplinary action, and to wear the shirts in the future without fear of retaliation.
On Sept. 15, the day of a school board meeting, about 40 high school students wore to school white T-shirts with black stenciling that had each student's ID number and the words "Property of PHS," in protest of student dress code policies that prohibit body piercings and "nontypical" hair color.
Egan at that time called the students into the cafeteria and gave them the option to change shirts, serve an in-school suspension, or leave school grounds and receive an unexcused absence and receive zeros for school work missed that day. Of those choices, 20 students took the option of in-school suspension or an unexcused absence.
After being contacted by several of the students and their parents, ACLU staff attorney Valerie Burch sent a letter to the district on Sept. 28 that informed them that disciplining the students for wearing T-shirts protesting the school dress code violated the students' First Amendment free speech rights. Burch then threatened legal action if the punishments were not lifted by Monday.
Earlier that month, visitors – many of whom were students – crammed the Parkside Education Center to address the board in defense of the students' decision to wear the T-shirts. Many of those who spoke were against the district's dress code, while a few adults said they supported it.
That meeting was held several weeks after four students attended a session of the school board's CAPP committee, at which time they pleaded with members to consider changes to the policy.
At that time, Egan said those students who violated the policy were given the option to remove their piercings, and face in-school suspension or have their parents pick them up to take them home from school.
Further, Egan said each student received a letter with regard to the new policy, and, therefore, was made aware of the dress code.
That came after several high school and junior high school students were reprimanded by the district for also being in violation of the policy, which currently 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."