By Heather Graves
GREEN BAY – The district could see an universal dress code revamp before the end of the 2019-20 school year.
For more than an hour at the Aug. 5 work session, board members discussed whether a change to the policy – which hasn’t been updated since 2008 – was needed and, if so, what that would mean.
A report briefly outlining the current dress code policy was presented to board members.
The report also included minutes from a meeting of the Green Bay Area Public Schools Intra-City Student Council (ICSC) from last December.
The current policy states: “Responsibility for the personal appearance of students enrolled in the district shall normally rest with the students themselves and their parents/guardians. Student dress or grooming should not affect the health or safety of students or disrupt the learning process within the classroom or school.”
The ICSC is concerned on how the current policy is being implemented throughout the district and how there are different standards in each building.
While the policy is wide-spread throughout the district, how students are informed of the requirements, and what those specific requirements are, vary from school to school.
Concerns were raised about presentations given to students at the beginning of each school year in regards to the dress code that could be seen as inappropriate.
“I’ve heard this from Edison (Middle School) students as well, some of the presentations given in the beginning of the school year vary widely,” said board member Kristina Shelton. “There were some where deep racialized language and pictures were used.”
District Superintendent Michelle Langenfeld said that she’d like a clear understanding of what are the presentations being shown to students regarding the dress code.
“I know that some are highly engaging and actually really tell a nice story and afford students the ability to really question,” Langenfeld said. “I think the approach is different in each and every school. I think that would be really critically important to be aware of.”
Audra Gabrielson, a student at Franklin Middle School, said she began inquiring about the dress code policy last fall.
She found it hard to find a written copy of the dress code policy for her school, and had to reach out to her principal to get her school’s policy in writing.
Gabrielson said the district policy says principals are allowed to make exceptions to the rules, but she feels they have been making additions.
Another issue that is raising concerns is the use of the word “distracting” when it comes to female students and certain clothing items.
While the current policy doesn’t specifically state that female students are prohibited from wearing tank- or spaghetti-strap tops, Gabrielson said it is a practice carried out at many of the schools throughout the district.
She said she feels that is unfair to female students.
“We aren’t allowed to wear tank tops because we are told that our (girls’) bodies are distracting because our shoulders are showing,” Gabrielson said. “In May it was hot – in the 90s – but I couldn’t wear spaghetti straps and shorts because I was told that it was unfair to the males in my class.”
Board Vice-President Andrew Becker said he’s embarrassed this has gone this far before something was done to address the issue.
“It’s really disappointing to me that someone was literally saying that the shoulder is a distraction and that somehow your shoulder being visual was an implication that is sexual,” Becker said. “And it sounds like it happens a lot and said literally that your shoulders are a distraction – that makes me very upset.”
Langenfeld said it’s important all aspects of the conversation are being addressed.
“Comfort level is very important – if you are freezing or too hot, it’s really hard to think,” Langenfeld said. “So it’s really important on how we address the variables.”
The dress code policy will be up for further discussion over the next several months with administration and faculty, ICSC and parents before it could possibly come back to the school board for changes.
As the district looks forward to this coming school year, Langenfeld said having conversations with principals is an important step that needs to be taken.
Langenfeld said there seems to be a significant disconnect between what the policy says and what students are being told.
“The policy may or may not align with what is shared with students,” Langenfeld said. “If you are told more specific details, how does a student reference if there is additional information that has been shared with them.”