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Steel Valley addresses cellphone policy, uniform concerns

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Tuesday, June 10, 2014, 3:46 a.m.

Steel Valley School District officials examined two hot button issues at a meeting on Monday.

The board's special assignments committee discussed pending changes to the student dress code and possible changes to the district's policy on student cellphone use.

Approximately 20 parents and students attended the meeting to voice concerns about the issues.

“Give us time to adjust to everything,” parent Kathi Bish said of the uniform policy that school directors adopted at a meeting last week. “It's a big adjustment.”

The purpose of the committee meeting was to fine tune the policy, which is based on a similar one used in the McKeesport Area School District, before it receives final adoption at a forthcoming board meeting.

The new dress code would restrict students to wearing black or tan khakis, collared shirts and, for girls, skirts with hemlines no shorter than 2 inches above the knee. Some of the issues examined at the committee meeting were whether manufacturer's logos should be allowed, permissible color schemes, and the form, fit and number of pockets a pair of pants may have.

Board member Coyleen Steele had a list of ideas she thought should be considered for the dress code. She said the district's colors of maroon and gold should be permitted along with other colors like black, white and gray.

Some parents and students had questions about which school-related garments will be allowed and which will not, noting some sweaters related to school athletics are marked with manufacturers' logos.

There are prescribed disciplinary actions for students who violate the uniform code but board member Collette Youngblood cautioned her colleagues that the district shouldn't focus on the penalty aspects of the policy.

“We want uniformity,” Youngblood said. “And we're putting some responsibility back on the parents this year because you buy the clothes.”

Some parents said the new policy could result in their having to spend more money this fall than they otherwise would have. Others said they don't want the district to distribute clothes at school to children on days they violate the dress code because of the expense that would add to operations.

Superintendent Edward Wehrer said having a few items on hand for students to wear if they lacked appropriate attire on a single day is an idea that was discussed but has not been added to the policy.

Wehrer said teachers and staff will receive training on how to address uniform code violations when they see them.

The district is looking at changing its policy on student cellphone use.

Currently, all students may bring cellphones to school but they are not allowed to use or carry them and must leave them in the safekeeping of school staff during the school day.

The district is considering a policy change that would permit students in middle and high school to carry their phones during the day but still forbid their use during school hours.

Wehrer said the district is considering the change because so many students are violating current cellphone policy.

High school principal Bryan Macuga said it is a challenge keeping student cellphone use in check; he said he compiled a report for disciplinary actions related to cellphones for the school year that was 27 pages.

Still, many at the meeting were concerned about misuse of cellphones, especially at the middle school level. Parents voiced concerns that students could use phones to take pictures of other students while they were changing clothes before or after gym class or use them to access restricted websites.

School board president Donna Kiefer said she would prefer a ban on cellphones.

“They're a distraction,” she said.

Eric Slagle is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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