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New Kensington-Arnold board debates dress code

| Monday, March 10, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

New Kensington-Arnold School Board members advocating for a stricter dress code have considered ways to sell the idea of uniforms to students and parents.

But first they'll have to convince fellow board members.

Marilyn Claassen, the board member leading the dress code committee, had hoped at the Feb. 27 board meeting to get initial approval of the revised policy that would require all students to wear plain collared shirts and khaki pants, skirts or Bermuda-style shorts next school year.

But other board members said they weren't yet ready to move forward with the draft dress code revision submitted by Superintendent John Pallone.

Board President Bob Pallone was skeptical school staff would be able to enforce the stricter policy when he believes enforcement of the current policy is lax.

“I don't get it,” he said. “Show me for a year we can enforce the policy we have first.”

Board member Laura Varner-Norman said the current policy leaves too much room for interpretation, leading to inconsistencies in how parents, teachers and administrators react to certain items of clothing.

By limiting the permitted style and color of clothing options, Varner-Norman said everyone would have an easier time making judgment calls.

“A yellow golf shirt is a yellow golf shirt,” she said.

Board member Pat Petit questioned whether they could just tighten up the language in the existing policy to address areas that lead to misinterpretation. Problem items that have been discussed include hooded sweatshirts, hats, leggings and other tight pants, sleeveless shirts and baggy pants.

Bob Pallone said he believes most of the dress code problems occur at the high school and instituting uniforms districtwide would be punishing elementary and middle-school students.

But Claassen said problems have been brought up at other grade levels.

Valley Middle School Principal Pat Nee said he spends about a half-hour most mornings dealing with dress-code violations.

“The kids know the policy,” he said. “They're just choosing to break the policy.”

Varner-Norman said she didn't see uniforms as a punishment and advised against presenting it as such to students.

She and others advocating for uniforms said the more professional presentation can lead to increased to school pride and reduced disciplinary problems.

She also believes the policy could better prepare students for the workforce.

Jodi Bussard, a New Kensington resident, told the board she didn't think uniforms would reduce behavioral problems: “I think it's ludicrous to think a dress code is going to change a child's personality.”

“This is not going to fix the problem,” Bob Pallone insisted.

Claassen has said the uniforms could lead to reduced costs for parents buying school clothes because the required items could be purchased at discount retailers like Kmart and Target. During a student fashion show of clothing options, Claassen noted most outfits cost less than $20 each.

But some questioned whether it would cost more because parents would need to buy two sets of clothing — school-appropriate uniforms plus more casual clothing children would want for evenings and weekends.

“I'd like to continue working on this,” said board member Regina Namey.

Jason Fularz, who oversees the board's policy committee, said he would schedule a committee meeting this month before the March 27 regular board meeting to continue discussion on the dress code as well as other issues.

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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