Tuesday, April 29, 2008

New S.B. school dress code tabled for being too 'vague'


Proposed amendments to the Santa Barbara School Districts’ discipline guidelines and dress code were dealt a blow last night by the Board of Education, which sent staff back to the drawing board in the hope of coming up with alternatives that are less “vague.”
One dress code amendment that irked some board members was a proposal to “…prohibit the presence of any apparel that denotes membership in a gang,” which would include hats, jewelry, and haircuts.

Board member Annette Cordero wondered where such a ban would start and stop, and to whom it would apply.
“If the policy is only going to be applied to students who fit the stereotype of a gang member then I’m opposed to that,” she said. “I’m typically not in favor of policies that are selectively enforced.”
For instance, Cordero said she realized shaving a gang sign into one’s hair would be a violation of dress code. But if that is the only clear-cut example of a hair violation, then that is what the amendment should say.
As it is, the language simply says haircuts, “which, by virtue of its color, arrangement, trademark or any other attribute,” could constitute gang affiliation.
The district’s Director of Compliance, Michael Gonzalez, did little to quell Cordero’s concerns when he explained that administrators at each school handle every case differently and interpret what is and is not gang related on a case-by-case basis.
But he ensured the board that, “School administrators are very fair in their treatment of students.”
The school’s current dress code does not make any specific reference to hair, but says: “In all matters relating to individual dress and grooming students are required to exercise good judgment…”
Other amendments to the dress code that weren’t discussed at length by the board but could present similar issues of vagueness include banning white T-shirts when worn in combination with a black or blue T-shirt, baggy pants, and knee length socks when worn with shorts that hang below the knees. These three items are all described in the proposed dress code as being “gang related.”
A number of other amendments specific to dress, such as wearing revealing clothing, belt buckles with initials, house slippers or bare feet, and anything that could be used as a weapon also ended up on the ban list.
Most of these items aren’t mentioned directly under the current dress code, which instead leaves the decisions about appropriate dress up to students and parents.
Though the proposed amendments aim to be more specific and provide uniform standards for all schools in the district, some of the amendments raised more questions than they answered.
Cordero said she wanted specifics about what haircuts would constitute gang membership before she could consider voting on such an amendment.
Board member Kate Parker said she sees lots of kids wearing baggy pants each day and, “It’s hard to differentiate when this is a problem and when this is a fashion statement.”
Gonzalez said banning baggy clothing is a matter of “safety of students and staff” because of the ability of students to conceal weapons.
With an up-tick in gang violence over the past year, School District officials have pledged to do everything in their power to help prevent the violence and keep it out of the schools.
District Superintendent Dr. Brian Sarvis said these amendments are one of the ways the school is attempting to address the problem.
“[The amendments] are a direct result of that effort,” he said before the meeting. “It’s important that we eliminate any vestige of any gang affiliation because we’re serious about school campuses being safe zones.”
Sarvis acknowledged during the meeting that holes in the language needed to be tightened and brought back before the board for a vote.
Also discussed were amendments to the district’s discipline and expulsion guidelines.
Of particular interest to most of the night’s public speakers was an amendment to the school’s substance abuse policy, which currently allows students to be expelled after their second offense. The amendment would change it from a two-strike policy to three strikes — something many at the meeting said is long overdue.
“We need to look at these kids for what they are,” said Tara Haaland-Ford, vice president of the Santa Barbara Teen Legal Clinic. “They are kids. They make mistakes.”
While many community advocates endorsed the change to the substance abuse policy, Gonzalez said the majority of the district’s vice principals, who often are responsible for carrying out discipline measures, are opposed to the three-strike amendment and want it to remain at two.
Board member Bob Noel said he believed some of the discipline guidelines don’t have enough teeth.
He wondered why possession of a knife or other dangerous weapons on campus isn’t grounds for automatic expulsion.
Gonzalez said the discipline guidelines are crafted in such a way as to provide administrators leeway with how they handle certain issues because no one instance is the same. He reminded Noel that the possibility for expulsion exists after one strike, but is not mandatory.
“We judge the merits of each individual case,” he said.
Because the amendments were on the action agenda, the board was expected to vote, but they instead took no action and directed Gonzalez to return on May 13 with revised amendments.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Other than uniforms, maybe a "symbolic uniform" should be required. What "pin form" that takes would require research. Greg in SB