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Steel Valley considers school uniforms in dress code update

| Tuesday, April 8, 2014, 7:23 a.m.

Steel Valley School District's dress code policy is on the drawing board.

School directors and administrators met Monday in a high school conference room to discuss concepts for a new dress code or uniform policy. It was the first formal meeting dedicated to the topic.

The district's current policy, which has not been revised since 2002, indicates it will not interfere with the rights of students or their parents to make decisions regarding appearance unless it presents a hazard to health or safety, disrupts the educational process, causes excessive damage to school property or prevents the student from achieving.

School directors said they have the educational process in mind as they consider drafting a new policy.

“It's a better educational process,” school director Tom Olson said. “There's less stress, less competition and less bullying.”

Vice president Colette Youngblood said there are economic and educational benefits to the dress code. Families can find relatively cheap school clothes in basic styles rather than using school as a runway for the latest expensive trends.

“Instead of asking your girlfriends what you're wearing to school tomorrow, you can ask them what homework you have for tomorrow,” Youngblood said.

“Our job is to educate children, not to help them make a fashion statement,” school director Don Bajus agreed.

Diana Borges, director of pupil personnel, special services and elementary education, said data is available to support the notion that students perform better when dressed better.

“You perform how you look,” Superintendent Edward Wehrer said, noting that a uniform dress code may inspire achievement based on school pride.

“That sense of team — that sense of pride in the school district — would be heightened,” he said.

Ed Colebank, director of academics, information and technology, said he is in favor of dress code revisions for the educational benefit, but wants the board to be aware of potential security issues that could arise with students wearing clothing that is too similar.

“If they are all wearing the same color, it's hard to pick out kids on camera,” Colebank said. Cameras may need to be added or repositioned if the board chooses a policy that allows for limited color selections, he explained.

Positive aspects associated with security include being able to identify Steel Valley students in school or on field trips.

“It helps identify intruders in the school, which is interesting,” school director Sue Ballas said.

The district heard from a handful of parents who support the idea of dress code revisions but had questions about its enforcement.

Anitra and Emmanuel Hughes, parents of three district students and one graduate, said students should be held to a professional standard of dress because school is preparing them for the real world.

“If we are teaching them, we have to guide them,” Emmanuel Hughes said, asking if educators will be held to a similar standard in the policy. “If we want them to look a certain way, we have to look that way, too.”

Those who attended were happy to share their opinions, but they wanted more families to be involved in the process. While the meeting was advertised publicly, parents asked that the next discussion be promoted via the district's telephone alert system as a public hearing.

District officials acknowledged they will need student input as well, because student morale could take a hit if they feel left out of the process.

The next steps in developing a new policy will be a student survey and additional public meetings, including a workshop in which uniform companies and retailers will be invited to display clothing.

Jennifer R. Vertullo is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1956, or jvertullo@tribweb.com.

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