The Siren Board of Education entertained a presentation by half a dozen high school students who registered concerns over aspects of the district’s dress code, which they believed to be too restrictive and unnecessary at the boards’ regular monthly meeting, held on Tuesday, Sept. 21.
The students stated concerns with aspects of the dress code that specifically cites hooded sweatshirts, commonly called ‘hoodies,’ and hats or other headwear.
The Siren School District dress code listed in the 2021-2022 student handbook specifically noted what was not allowed: “Sunglasses, coats, hoods, bandanas, hats and any type of headgear/head cover may not be worn in the building unless it is part of a school activity (unless prescribed by a physician due to medical reasons or for documented religious reasons.)”
The rest of the dress code addresses things like ‘gang symbols,’ profanity, etc. not being allowed on clothing or in logos, as well as specifically noting ‘revealing’ clothing, such as dresses, tops and undergarments and how they should not be visible or allow certain areas of exposed skin.
The dress code also outlines the procedure for a student being in violation, starting with objection by a staff member, and having them change clothes, contacting a parent, and even possibly forcing the student to leave school to change clothes. If the violation continues, how ultimately, if he or she refuses to change the ‘offensive’ item or dressing, that they can be suspended from school.
The five students who spoke out - Ciera Oiyotte, Lee Belisle, Frankie Bildeau, Sophia Sutton and Margret’ Johnson pointed to a student survey that suggested over 95-percent of high school students polled were in favor of a policy change to allow hats and hoodies, with several of them also pointing to mask use last year as no real problem.
The staff later addressed the dress code with several proposed changes that would allow the hats and hoodies, but keep the rest of the code intact.
Administration concern over the hoodies seemed to be on security issues, and several times mentioned that if a students’ head is obscured, they may not be able to identify them if they’re involved in an incident, such as a fight or vandalism, which may be seen on security footage.
“I’ll admit that a lot of the times, I’m not looking at their heads, I’m looking at everything else (to identify them),” stated principal Darrell Imhoff.
There were several comments about how the wearing of such items may not be a ‘rebellious act’ but may be sort of a way to deal with social anxiety, self-perception issues and emotions, and that some of the students feel safer with such items on as part of their wardrobe.
“There can be mental health aspects,” stated Native American coordinator Tara Voss. “Some of them may be closing themselves off to the world.”
The board seemed to be in consensus that the adjusted dress code was worth a try, at least.
“We went through a whole year of (face) masks with few problems,” stated board president Peggy Moore.
In the end the board voted unanimously to adjust the dress code to allow for “Hats, and other headwear - must allow the face to be visible to staff, and to not interfere with the line of sight of any student or staff. Hoodies must allow the face to be visible to school staff,” the new dress code reads, also adding a paragraph that all head coverings must comply with the stipulations of no obscene or offensive logos. Sunglasses are still not allowed, unless prescribed medically.
“I’m really proud they (the students) came through the proper channels,” stated principal Imhoff. “It says a lot that they worked together and spoke to the board.”
The approved dress code change will be on a one-year trial basis, with a review before next fall.
In other board action
• The board also outlined the results of a recently noted mental health grant, that will allow the district up to $74,000 annually for the next two years, specifically for mental health-related hiring and programming.
• Several donations were accepted and noted with thanks, including for $1,900 from the Siren Lion’s Club, which will be used for girls volleyball, boys football programs and for other items.
There was also a $500 donation to the district by Christopher and Katie Tewalt, specifically to pay off lunch debts for several grades, leaving about $75 in remaining unpaid lunch debts.
• The board praised the kitchen crew and staff for a glowing report made by the state’s Department of Ag, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCAP), which performed a ‘surprise’ inspection report on Sept. 16, with the district receiving not only a passing grade but accolades in the report, which noted that the facility is “in compliance – the kitchen is extremely clean.”
The staff had no idea about the surprise inspection but passed with flying colors. “They were prepared, but didn’t know it was coming,” stated district administrator Dr. Kevin Shetler. “We were very much in compliance!”
• There was lengthy discussion on the future of the Dragon Learning Center after school program, which has had steady use by over three dozen young students but is suffering from staff shortage issues, which may affect the future of the program. They are hoping to involve some of the more interested high school students in the program, and are continuing to seek volunteer helpers.
• There was a lengthy discussion on how more students than usual are behind or missing immunizations that are required, in part due to pandemic protocols last year, and how some of the usual tetanus, mumps, measles, diptheria and rubella shots have not been kept up to date and may be in violation of state laws.
“If we’re letting some (students) in the school without them (vaccines) then we’re subjecting other kids to the possible sickness and then they’ll possibly get it,” stated principal Wayne Koball.
The board voted unanimously to support state compliance laws regarding vaccines.