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Dress Code Debate Dominates West Deptford School Board Meeting

Two dozen parents turned out to critique the plans for a new district-wide standardized dress code.

Emotional parents showed up in force at meeting Tuesday night, firing off a barrage of criticism at , especially a version that's circulated via email over the past week.

While not officially on the agenda, the issue dominated public comment, as about two dozen members of the public showed up at the normally sparsely-attended meeting, generating nearly an hours' worth of debate on the subject.

And at the heart of much of the discussion was enforceability.

“What's wrong with the old one?” questioned Bill Connelly.

School board President Christopher Strano said it's a matter of the current dress code being too loose and too difficult to enforce.

“The whole essence of this is...it starts at home,” Strano said. “It came down to interpretation.”

But several parents, including Connelly, blasted that as punishing the majority who stick to the rules for a minority who violate the current code.

“It's not appropriate for a public school system to take that responsibility away from us as parents,” Connelly said.

freshman Meghan Garvin said she doesn't see much in the way of dress code violations at school—mostly the sagging-pants variety—and said she and her friends have talked about the issue.

“I don't think a lot of them want this,” she said.

Other parents critiqued it as shifting an unnecessary burden on to families. As Strano acknowledged, the board isn't responsible for picking up any of the costs for a shift to a standardized dress code, rather than going to uniforms—a semantic difference, perhaps, but one not lost on those in attendance.

“You've now essentially doubled my school budget,” said Tracy Hastings. “I'm sorry, I think you're wrong on this.”

While many parents pointed to printouts of one version of the dress code—one that mandates polo shirts and khaki pants and bans jeans—that had been forwarded around in various circles in the last week, policy committee chair Peter Guzzetti said the committee has gone through multiple versions since the idea was first broached last year.

“We've been revising as we go,” he said.

A finalized version of that code should be up on the school district's website in the coming weeks, though, Guzzetti said. Parents will be able to offer comments and criticism on that policy, before the board goes to a phone survey of all parents in the district, to find out if there's support for the amended version.

Until that's done, Guzzetti said, there won't be any action.

“There has been no recommendation to the board to go forward with this,” he said.

That wasn't enough to convince everyone in attendance, however.

Several parents brought up the decision to go to grade-level schools as it related to the dress code debate, claiming the board railroaded through that idea after the 2009 budget crisis.

“How can we trust you?” Cheryl Reeve said.

As Strano and other board members pointed out, the decision to go to grade-level schools came about at least in part because of the defeated budget that year, which was gutted to the point where neighborhood schools were too expensive to remain.

But, like that decision, Strano said the final call on the dress code will come down to whether it improves the learning environment.

“We have a great school system,” he said. “We're trying to make it better.”

Reeve and other parents disagreed with that notion.

“I can't see my child being a straight-A student by wearing khakis and a polo,” she said.

John March 13, 2012 at 12:29 PM
Don't we have bigger fish to fry in the township of WD, I really can't believe we are still talking about this ? Enforce the existing policy and deal with the exceptions with the proper discipline. This dress code thing will never fly and if it does it will have been passed by the school board and not the parents. My son who is an average student isn't going to get better grades because he will was forced to wear a polo shirt and a pair of khakis. Most family's budgets today are pretty tight. Having three kids being sent to WD Township schools, this would put an unfair burden on most households. Move on to bigger and more productive issues that really matter.
John Hayden March 13, 2012 at 12:37 PM
Scott, It's funny actually, if you look at the numbers from that year. The budget was defeated, and the township committee suggested they put back ~$300,000 in activities and cut $1.2M from the budget, for a net savings of $900,000. The BOE put all $300,000 back in that the committee suggested, and then put in grade level schools, and called it done. So on the surface, that would account for $1.2M. But the following year, they claimed a savings of $400,000 by going to grade level schools. The board doesn't do things based on statistical information. They follow an agenda. Grade level schools was part of that agenda. If the new dress code goes in, it won't be because the parents want it, but rather that it is also part of the agenda. Time will tell.
Carrie March 13, 2012 at 05:14 PM
I have 5 kids & look forward to the day where I've a clear cut, everyone else is wearing it, dress code. You get 3 pants/skirts, 5 shirts, replace when needed, and no "All my friends have...." You want your kids to fit in & not be teased, so you buy $20 tee shirts & $40 jeans, they need @ least 7- 8 of these shirts, & 5 pair of jeans having you spend upwards of $200 a year, not to mention the upgrades & change in styles. With the uniform/dress code, you pass the clothes on to the next kid, neighbor or back to the school for a less fortunate family. Argue all you want that it will be a hardship for some families, & maybe initially it will, but I know that once this goes through, & is set in motion, my kids will change after school without a battle. No, your kids won't make a wild transformation & become straight A students, but their teachers will spend less time correcting other kids for what they are wearing & calling parents. People will focus on what needs to be focused on. Sit outside the school & look at the kids wearing flip flops, mini skirts, pants below the belt, cami's & short shorts. The weather is changing & the kids are sure to be attending school with less clothes on. Even if you have to look at it that teen boys will be less tempted & girls will be harassed less, then do that, but it seems to me that what is actually being said is, "We are mad at you for what you did with the schools, so we're going to fight you on everything else!"
Duchess March 13, 2012 at 06:56 PM
Well said Carrie, couldn't agree with you more. Some of these kids going to school look like they should be on street corners. This dress code is def the way forward, no more designer shirts and jeans which as you rightly say cost $20 +++++, you would kit out a child for a whole week on $20 with the proposed dress code. I will def be voting for it. The kids and need to concentrate on learning not who is wearing the latest fashions at school.
my 3 sons March 13, 2012 at 09:55 PM
Many of our students are not properly dressed for school. Teachers and administers don't have time each day to call parents and wrote notes regarding dress code violations. Instead, teachers need to be focusing on lesson planning and teaching our kids. Administrators are busy observing and making sure the teachers are providing appropriate instruction as well as maintaining order in the schools. We could use a more defined dress code, especially something that is easy to enforce. Khakis and polos are inexpensive, you can find such shirts in Target in August and September for around $10 each. I would think if your child is wearing the proposed clothes to school each day, then parents would be able to cut back a little on the amount of regular clothes that they would typically buy. I just don't see this "huge expense" that many seem to be concerned with.
Terri March 14, 2012 at 01:23 AM
Totally agree. I have 4 children & 2 of them started in schools that had uniforms.....they both thought it was great. No hassals getting dressed in the morning & deciding what to wear....they all wore the same thing. The expense was no problem either. We found it very cost effective. My kids are all grown now & we have 1 more to graduate this year. They always wished there could have been a dress code. Wearing school uniforms is a good thing. Nothing wrong with a pair of khaki pants & a polo shirt.
Mike C. March 14, 2012 at 02:13 AM
Carrie, As a high school teacher in a district with a dress code similar to what WD is proposing, I totally agree with your reasons and know firsthand that it works for us. What some of these kids wear to school is inappropriate to say the least. Kudos, Carrie.
Disillusionment March 14, 2012 at 10:16 AM
Woo, more ways to mold our children into an ever more silly conformist culture where everyone need do the same thing, act the same way, look the same way. I'm sure if anyone's watching out there in the greater universe... our attempts to nanny our future generations into selfless, soulless consumers probably appear not much dissimilar to the attempts of monkeys to throw their wastes at each other.
Duchess March 14, 2012 at 01:15 PM
Disillusionment - why do nurses wear scrubs, why do accountants wear suits, why do our military wear uniform, why does my car mechanic wear overalls and work boots?? .........because they are appropriate attire for their profession, get used to it, people wear uniforms everyday. Kids need to go to school and concentrate on work not the latest fashions.
Meg Czuba March 14, 2012 at 02:45 PM
I can debate any of the issues that are in favor of a formal dress code, but I will go back to my original argument. The entire debate stems back to the home. We, as parents, need to teach our children modesty and self respect in what they wear. We need to teach our children financial responsibility and priorities and that $60 may be better spent on college savings or food on the table then a fashionable pair of jeans. It is not the responsibility of the BOE to set policy for us parents to do our job at home.
Quiet Observation March 14, 2012 at 08:21 PM
As a senior leaving WDHS, I can give an unbiased opinion as it won't be affecting me. Honestly, in the high school no one is distracted by clothing and there really aren't that many serious dress code violations. No one is "bullied" for not have the best brands, because by the time you get to high school no one is looking to impress people, no one cares. We have a decent dress code, however it is not enforced. As long as you get your work done and are 85% covered teachers do not care what you wear. Those who do choose to break the dress code aren't going to stop just because we now have a "uniformed dress code". You'll have the majority of the students who respect the school dressing the way they always have, and then you'll have the promiscuous and rebellious students who will buy the tightest green shirts and khaki pants available in the stores. Girls who like to show off will come with unbuttoned shirts, and guys who feel the need to broadcast their boxers will come in khaki pants around their ankles. It's not the dress code that needs to be changed, it's respect and enforcement. Enforcing a uniformed dress code is just going to cause angry students and parents, and more drama (this thread is an example).
Peace-loving Hippy March 15, 2012 at 01:01 AM
Dear Duchess: Adults have the freedom to choose their occupations. Adults selected to be nurses, doctors, police officers and etc. Hopefully adults chose to be parents. As parents, it is their responsibility to help select the child’s clothing. Parents should be responsible for their children because parents chose to be just that PARENTS. If the parent is unhappy with the other students, the parent has the right to send their child to a school with a uniform dress code.
Peace-loving Hippy March 15, 2012 at 01:04 AM
In the United States, children have a right to a free, appropriate public education. This right cannot depend on whether the student chooses to wear a uniform. Unless the schools are having safety problems in the schools, the federal government advises that uniform-style dress codes must be optional or include an opt-out clause. Which means if your district has only one middle school and one high school, these students would have to attend other schools, possibly at district expense. This may become costly to the budget. Which is one concern. Another concern would be children that will be unable to wear school uniforms. In our district we have wheel chair bound students, students with special needs and children with Autism. Children with these characteristics may need special clothing or may be especially sensitive to certain clothing. I have to agree, we, as parents have to enforce the dress code.
Observer March 15, 2012 at 03:43 AM
As a female junior, I do not deny that there is minor pressure to dress nicely and buy attractive pieces of clothing to avoid feeling self conscious. However, I actually may be distracted if I am required to wear polos and khakis. Whereas the current dress code allows for individualism, originality, and an opportunity to dress for one's own body shape, a uniform will merely flatter the figures of some people, and flaunt the imperfections of others. I, personally, will feel uncomfortable as I sit in class and judge my body type in comparison to those who I decide the uniforms flatter. In a case like this, I will not be uncomfortable due to clothing (a rare problem that can be easily tackled with new clothing), but actually due to a more personal, lasting issue of negative body image - an issue that can and has destroyed the self confidence of teenagers.
John Hayden March 15, 2012 at 02:26 PM
I'm not sure where you get your information from, but there is no "right to a free, appropriate public education" in the United States, or even in NJ.
GARY KLAHR March 16, 2012 at 03:11 AM
Quiet is correct. It is nonsense to claim--as so many do---that kids spend most of their time at school staging "fashion shows" to out-class their peers with expensive clothes. ABSURD. There is nothing wrong with FULLY-APPROPRIATE casual clothes like denim jeans and tee shirts!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! In NJ these days, such clothes are considered inappropriate although 90 pct of U.S. kids have worn such for 60+ years. SEE www.aprod.org
Bill Bondar March 16, 2012 at 11:55 AM
In Catholic schools, wearing a suit and tie every day to school promotes conformity. It says that you belong to a specific group. I also thought it prepared you for the day when you graduated, and went looking for a job, you could better land one wearing a white shirt and tie. For Public schools, Its an equalizer and promotes self esteem. Some kids can afford to wear Ralph Loren Polo, some cannot. Not so much for elementary ages but for kids at the high school age. Clothes are the least acceptable way to promote self esteem. Uniforms levels the playing field for everyone. Kids have more important things to worry about, like growing up and becoming good citizens.
Kimberly McGlinn Maska March 16, 2012 at 04:09 PM
Finally, someone else looking out for our special needs children! Thank you!
T.J. Patch March 16, 2012 at 11:06 PM
The notion that wearing a uniform or adhering to a uniform dress code "levels the playing field" is absurd. First, there is no such thing as a level playing field in the real world. A minority of professions require a uniform while the majority do have dress codes, just like the school currently has in place. Second, how exactly does it "level the playing field"? Is a poor student wearing jeans and a t-shirt bought at WalMart of Target now suddenly on the same playing field as another student who bought his or her regulation clothing at Hollister or Aero? No, they aren't. Third, when you send your child to any parochial school you understand going in that uniforms are part of the equation. When you send your child to a public school it is YOUR responsibility as the parent to make sure they are dressed appropriately. And further, it is YOUR responsibility to teach your child about dressing properly for school as it will foster proper behavior patterns when they get out in to the real world and won't have someone telling them what to wear and attempting to level some imaginary playing field for them. Lastly, part of growing up and becoming good citizens is learning what is appropriate and what isn't. Forcing kids to wear a prescribed set of clothing removes that aspect and makes them believe that all is fair in this world. Let me clue you in, this world ain't fair. Teach them that simple fact now and save them a lot of heartache later.
ridiculous March 16, 2012 at 11:49 PM
As a senior, you are very observative and I believe 100% correct. They have rules now and they are not observed. Kids do where tank tops, short shorts, ects so a dress code will now make them stick to rules?. Should have never stopped implementing them! If someone buys designer shirts and khakis and someone else gets theres at target is that any better? You are right kids do not care about how others today dress and if they HAVE TO HAVE an expensive pair of jeans you cannot afford then you tell your kids "NO". You are the parent. Make them save their money, ask for it for their birthday or just say we cannot afford it at this time and they should be respectful of that. Everyone has their independent way of expressing their individuality and no matter what - it is gonna be expressed in school and also when socializing outside of school or on the weekends. The proposal says it will cost $50 for 3 shirts and 3 pants. What? I just looked on JC penneys uniforms and the pants alone are $20-$25 a piece and they are little kids sizes. High school kids like you are probably in adult sizes which increases in value. Every year as kids grow you will have to repurchase new ones and I know if my kid wears 3 shirts to school for the entire school year it isnt gonna look real nice and I cant go get him more cause I still am buying him his everyday out of school clothes. To bring this whole issue up is ridiculous. Focus on the kids and how to educate them better not on what they are wearing!
Disillusionment March 17, 2012 at 03:34 AM
John - Perhaps there is no guaranteed "right", but given that education IS compulsory and given as well that home-schooling must be approved as well as the unaffordability of private schooling for many... Even if it's not a right, it's sure not a choice.
Disillusionment March 17, 2012 at 03:38 AM
Not all people where uniforms everyday as it varies by profession which people have a right to choose... Just as you can choose to send your child to a private school with a dress code if you so choose to torment them. I've made off just fine never needing to wear a uniform thus far in life, including through my public education at West Deptford and at work.
Dr. Kenneth Nosewater March 17, 2012 at 03:45 AM
Obviously the playing field wasn't level when you attended school. "this world ain't fair"? ... plus your fourth paragraph makes no sense whatsoever. Do you even know what you are talking about?
T.J. Patch March 17, 2012 at 03:41 PM
No Frank, the playing field wasn't level nor should it have been. I didn't need others to level it for me. I succeeded on my own merits with the positive support of my father who taught me at a young age that this world is not fair and that I am the only one responsible for my own success, not others and that no one is going to make it easy for me. He also taught me that the world isn't fair, never has been and never will be. I'm teaching my kids the same thing. They know nothing is handed to you, hard work, self reliance and personal responsibility are more important than a logo on your shirt. I don't need the school board to "level the playing field" for them. They'll be better people, more productive citizens and more responsible adults if they learn now that their is no such thing as a level playing field in the real world. And I'm sorry you don't understand my fourth paragraph. It's a fairly simple point about teaching your children what is and isn't appropriate and how that helps them become good citizens. That you didn't get that is on you, not me. Have a nice day.
Kristi Simpkins March 25, 2012 at 06:55 PM
Carrie, This issue will never pass. I lived here my whole life. This issue has been brought up & dealt w/ many times, since I was my children's age. This issue has never gone thru in over 30 years. Children like mine who don't violate the dress code that's there now, shouldn't have to be punished & wear uniforms, b/c other children can't follow the rules. In addition b/c the schools aren't being strict enough w/ the code. The schools just need to crack down more on those children, & really enforce the code that's already there. If a child violates the code, make them change their clothes, or send them home for the day. Too bad for them & their parents. A child chooses that behavior that child & their family, must deal w/ the consequences of that behavior. Also if children are going to bullied & teased, it doesn't matter what children wear to school. The bully will find anything to bully & tease children about. If this did pass, children would then be bullied & teased for something else besides the clothes.
Kristi Simpkins March 26, 2012 at 02:49 AM
Duchess, Are my children really going to get straight A's, b/c of wearing uniforms or wearing regular clothing? No they aren't. Also what you're referring to, is what adults have to wear w/ their professions. These are children. Not adults. We should also let them be children, & not dictate or tell them what to wear. If the children would just follow the rules, & the schools would crack down harder on the ones that don't, this wouldn't be up for discussion. My children go to school, & concerntrate just fine. It has nothing to do w/ their attire either.
Kristi Simpkins March 26, 2012 at 05:09 AM
My 3 sons, This all begins in the children's homes. Parents gave to set the correct examples, & children must follow the examples & rules that are set & given to them. Why do my children go to school wearing what they should everyday? Why can't all children in the schools do the same thing? Also just b/c it may be inexpensive to you or to others, doesn't mean that every parent, can put out that extra money. It isn't even about that. People of this township shouldn't have to put that extra money out. Whether they can or not, isn't the issue. Administrators, prinicpals, teachers, & other such staff members, aren't doing their entire jobs. If they were, the "dress code" that's already in place now would be getting enforced in the proper manner. Then this issue would cease to exist. If the staff has to call parents, write letters, send children home, even suspend children, etc. in order to enforce the dress code then fine. It needs to be done. That's what they have to do. More importantly it's what they should do. That is ALL part of their jobs.
WDNeedsHelp March 26, 2012 at 04:04 PM
Thanks T.J. Could not have said it better myself.
Kristi Simpkins March 31, 2012 at 09:59 PM
T.J., I couldn't agree w/ you more. This whole uniform dress code issue is totally ridiculous. Does anyone not think that this new dress won't be violated too? The dress code now is being violated. It isn't about what clothing children wear anyway. That won't make any difference in my children's abilty, to perform any better academically. Also where does a panel of strangers get to dictate to me, what my children or any other children in this township can wear to school? That's OUR choice to make as their parents, guardians, etc. My children go to school wearing what they're supposed to wear. Everyone's child should do the same. That should be the topic. Just have the schools enforce the dress code that's already in place. Not make dramatic changes b/c ppl, don't wish or don't want to do something that may cause other problems.
WD Dude May 15, 2012 at 03:09 PM
It's funny: All I am reading here between all parties involved are a bunch of folks who belittle and criticize anyone who has an opinion other than their own. We wonder why we have a Congress that is screwing up our nation. They aren't doing anything differently than we are doing here. Words like "ridiculous, absurd, nonsense..." They all insinuate stupidity on the part of those that disagree with you. There are pros and cons to a dress code. It's a matter of what the majority of stakeholders want to do in a community. I would submit to either choice and abide by it. Why? Because I am rearing my children in a fashion that enforces rules and respect, that promotes principles that remind us we can't always have what WE want, that clothes and shoes do not dictate who you are, that people are entitled to their opinions and that you can still be "agreeable" with those that disagree, that ALL people are worhty of dignity, and that life isn't always fair and just. They are essentially learning, "Get over yourself." It's not all about you. The younger I teach it, the better off they will be, the less entitled they will be and the less disappointed they will feel. The clothing worn from a dress code will definately not look as good on some kids, but you can help them find things that compliment them, and they will appreciate your attention to their feelings. It takes a little freedom away, but gives opportunity for other things more important to stand out. What is best for the kids?

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