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New Ken-Arnold committee recommends school uniforms

| Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014, 12:11 a.m.

A New Kensington-Arnold dress code committee plans to make a recommendation to the school board that students be required to wear fitted khaki-style pants and collared shirts next school year.

The committee, led by school board member Marilyn Claassen, has met four times since the fall. On Tuesday, it nailed down some suggestions they'd like the board to begin to consider, perhaps as soon as its Feb. 27 meeting.

Tentative plans include requiring all students, from kindergartners to high school seniors, to wear collared polo shirts or button-down dress shirts. They would be limited to one solid color, either black, white, gray or gold.

Acceptable bottoms may include black or khaki pants, knee-length shorts and skorts (a combination of a skirt and shorts).

No jeans or sweatpants would be allowed.

All clothing would need to be fitted properly — no baggy pants sitting below the waist or tight leggings.

Head coverings including hats, hoods or bandanas would continue to be prohibited, as would flip-flops or any shoes without at least a strap over the heel.

Although students would be able to layer sweaters, blazers or zip-up fleece sweatshirts over their shirts, the committee was leaning away from allowing hooded sweatshirts.

There was some debate whether elementary students should be allowed to wear the hoodies as long as the hoods are down.

The committee was divided on whether denim or sweatpants should be allowed for kindergartners who often spend some class time on the floor.

Valley Middle School Assistant Principal Todd Kutchak said the more options the board allows, the more students and staff will have to interpret the rules — likely leading to enforcement problems.

Several teachers at Tuesday's meeting agreed, saying they'd like very specific guidelines.

A few parents who were present indicated support for the changes as long as district staff enforce the policy — something they said is too lax now.

Claassen had about a half-dozen students of all ages model some sample clothing from retailers including J.C. Penney, Target and Kmart.

Claassen said most of the outfits were available for $20 or less.

Students still were able to show individual style with their choices of jewelry, headbands, shoes and socks.

Several benefits touted

Claassen and Superintendent John Pallone said there are several benefits of implementing a more limited dress code — including financial savings for families, improved morale and possible behavioral improvements.

They referenced an earlier presentation by McKeesport Area High School administrators, who said behavior and morale improved when they implemented a similar dress code last school year.

Board member Liney Glenn said she'd like New Kensington-Arnold administrators to follow McKeesport's lead in terms of enforcement.

McKeesport students are screened as they enter a building to ensure they're following the rules. Anyone seen violating the dress code is quietly taken to an area where they can either wait for parents to bring acceptable clothing or choose from a stash of clothing the district keeps on hand.

Glenn said by not allowing the students who violate the policy to cause a distraction and get attention, it will take away much of the desire to push the boundaries.

Although Claassen said most students and parents she's talked to about the policy have favored the changes, Pallone noted the relatively low turnout at the committee's meetings. He warned there may be more objections as the process of changing the policy progresses.

He said the next hurdle will be seeing if a majority of the school board supports the changes.

“We have a little bit of a sales pitch ahead of us,” he said.

Liz Hayes is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4680 or lhayes@tribweb.com.

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