Lake Placid school board OKs new dress code | News, Sports, Jobs

LAKE PLACID — The Lake Placid Central School District Board of Education has approved a new district dress code policy that will allow students in grades 9 through 12 to wear hats in school, among other changes.

In addition to allowing hats for high schoolers — though students still can’t wear the hoods of hooded sweatshirts up — the new policy no longer requires tops to be able to be tucked into bottoms and states that visible bra straps do not violate dress code policy . LPCSD Clerk Karen Angelopoulos said Wednesday that the new policy is effective immediately.

Board of education members voted 6-1 to pass the new policy that a group of students, community members, district faculty and staff have worked to create since this past September. Board members Daniel Cash, Bryan Kennelly, Martha Spear, Joan Hallett-Valentine, board Vice President Daniel Marvin and board President Rick Preston voted in favor of the new policy; board member Colleen Locke cast the lone “no” vote.

Applause erupted in the Lake Placid Middle-High School auditorium during Tuesday night’s board of education meeting after Angelopoulos announced that the policy had passed. Students and teachers in attendance had spent the public comment portion of that night’s meeting advocating for the dress code policy, commending the dress code policy committee for its hard work and urging board members to reconsider their previous rejection of the policy.

The board of education narrowly voted against the policy 3-2 at its meeting on March 8, but board members decided to vote on the policy again after students defended the dress code at the board’s March 22 meeting.

Process, policy

Four students spoke out against the district’s current policy at a school board meeting last September, specifically raising issues with the district’s no-hat policy and what students believed to be discriminating policies that sexualized young women. That night sparked the formation of an ad hoc dress code committee — made up of students, district staff and other district stakeholders — that came up with recommendations for changes to the dress code policy.

The main changes proposed by the ad hoc committee, which board members approved as a whole, include allowing high school students to wear hats; that the current requirement that shirts are able to be tucked into bottoms be amended to say that the “lower hems of tops should be able to naturally touch the waistband of bottoms”; that the visibility of bra straps not be counted as a dress code violation; and that proper procedures for intervening in dress code violations be established.

The hat portion of the new policy proved to be the main point of contention for most board members who showed opposition to the changes; members generally showed support for the rest of the policy. Board members have said they’d heard negative feedback from teachers who wanted the ability to control hat-wearing in their classrooms, didn’t want to “police” heat-wearing, believed hat-wearing wouldn’t prepare students for life after high school, and thought hats might be distracting or impede learning.

Several students and teachers have rebutted those points over the course of the board’s last few meetings, saying that hats could provide students the confidence to focus better, improve students’ mental health and improve the district-wide atmosphere of respect by still requiring students to remove their hats during the pledge of allegiance, the national anthem, presentations and performances.

Students first and foremost

Three students and one teacher spoke during the board of education’s “Good of the Cause” portion of its meeting, where members of the public can address the board about school-related matters. Angelopoulos also read five letters sent in from parents, students and district faculty during the public comment period.

Caleb Mihill, president of the Lake Placid High School Student Council, spoke before the board for the second time on behalf of the high school student body. He said students asked Main Street businesses over the last couple of weeks to hang up a poster supporting the new dress code and asking community members to attend the board meeting on Tuesday. He said all the businesses said they’d hang it up, and those who said they’d have to check with the manager had the poster hung up later that day.

“If that doesn’t scream community support, then I don’t know what it does,” he said.

Mihill also confronted the board about ignoring data that supports hat-wearing in the high school. He said a survey went out to high school staff since the last board meeting to gauge district support of the hat policy. Around 50% of 26 survey-takers were in support of hats, around 27% were against the policy and around 23% said they were neutral on the subject, according to Mihill. High school counselor Connie Hammaker supported Mihill’s point in a letter to the board, saying students felt slighted by the board’s prior decision to reject the vote because they believed the decision was based on anecdotal evidence.

“They were frustrated that decisions were based on opinions of casual conversation, outside of meetings, when they were being told they had to show up to speak or put their names to a letter in order for their opinion and comments to be heard and considered, ” Hammaker wrote.

Board members have alluded in past meetings to phone calls, emails and letters they’ve received from community members, parents, and district faculty and staff speaking out against the hat policy. No members of the public have attended a board meeting to speak against the hat policy.

High school science teacher Frank Brunner was the first teacher to address the board at a meeting in support of the new hat policy. He thought the policy would create a healthier atmosphere of respect in the school, and he thought students were deserving of the change.

“One of the things I’ve learned in my teaching career is, when you have good kids, you listen to them,” he told board members. “You listen to them, you work with them, talk with them and you see where you can go with that.”

Brunner brought up past statements from Locke, who has said that while she applauds students’ efforts in lobbying for a change they believe in, part of life is having to accept outcomes you hadn’t hoped for. Brunner, who has taught for 25 years, said students have accepted enough defeat throughout the coronavirus pandemic.

“They’ve had three years of disappointment,” he said. “The fact that they’re still here tonight, working for this and doing it the right way — following the rules, following the procedures — shows that they’ve got that lesson down. They know that lesson … What we have here is a much more rare opportunity to show that hard work can pay off.”

Abbey Light, a freshman and student council secretary, was one of the students who originally approached the school board in September about the dress code policy. She returned on Tuesday to encourage board members to remember the district’s mission statement: “Students first and foremost.”

“Students are supposed to be put first, so the students’ opinions on this should matter and be accounted for and also held just as high as teachers and community members,” she said.

Light said in an email Wednesday that she was proud of the work students accomplished with the policy.

“After a very long eight months, it feels great to know that we made a difference in our school,” she wrote. “My fellow students and I have been trying for a long time to make this happen. We went through the proper steps and made sure respect was our number one priority through this all.”

Senior Levi Marshall also addressed the board on Tuesday in support of the hat policy. Student council Vice President Addyson Colby, parent Julie Lawrence and high school art teacher Alan Robinson wrote letters in support of the hat policy. Teacher Jon Fremante wrote in support of implementing a uniform policy.

Opinions aside

Some board members participated in a roundtable discussion of the policy, providing a summary of their views of the subject.

Preston, who voted against the policy the first time, said he came to the meeting intending to make a motion to revise the hat policy — he personally believes hats aren’t professional — but he said he was listening closely to comments about students’ mental health, the importance of their personal identities and how hats make students feel. He said that in representing taxpayers and students in the district, his opinion “doesn’t weigh much.” He said he’d gotten some phone calls from people against the hat policy, but he said, “I don’t see them here.” He didn’t make a motion to revise the policy, and he voted in favor of the dress code policy changes.

Kennelly, who was absent for the first dress code vote, said he hasn’t heard a lot of input from people opposed to the policy. While he also came to the meeting prepared to strike the hat policy from the proposed dress code, he thought the board should defer to the ad hoc committee and students and pass the policy.

Hallett-Valentine, who previously voted against the policy, also said she had to put her personal opinion aside. At the time of discussion, she said she wasn’t sure how she’d vote, though she ended up voting in favor of the policy.

Spear, who was also absent for the last vote, wanted to know more about why people were opposed to the policy; she asked what good would come to the district from rejecting the hat policy. Kennelly thought the opposition was largely focused on support for teachers who wanted to control the climate of their classroom. I have added that the latest survey data did not support that claim.

Locke, who voted against the policy for the second time on Tuesday, said she’d read through Hammaker’s email, which detailed the statistics from the recent teacher survey, a few times. She thought there were equal counter-arguments on both sides of the hat policy debate. She wanted to see the policy changes for female students’ dress go through with the hat policy redacted. Preston clarified that the board was voting on all of the proposed dress code changes, including the revised hat policy.

Marvin, who was absent for the last vote, joined other board members in saying he would withhold his personal opinion in the vote. I thought the board had to look out for students, “the constituents of the district.” I have thanked students for the time and thoughtfulness they put into the process.

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