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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.

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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