OPRF school board eyes dress code changes

Board could remove prohibitions on hats, hoodies next school year

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By Michael Romain

Staff Reporter

Starting next school year, students at Oak Park and River Forest High School may be able to wear hoodies and caps during the school day without worrying about possible disciplinary infractions. 

The District 200 school board is considering changes to the Code of Conduct policies featured in the 2018-19 student handbook that may axe the longstanding prohibitions.

The board is also considering no longer requiring all OPRF students to wear their student IDs visibly around their necks during the school day and updating the policy that governs how excessive absences affect students' grades. The board is scheduled to vote on the modifications at a regular meeting on May 24. 

During a Committee of the Whole meeting on May 15, OPRF Principal Nathaniel Rouse told board members the recommended changes, particularly the one regarding the dress code, were supported by OPRF student groups like Students Advocating for Equity. 

In addition, the district's Culture, Climate and Behavior Committee recommendations, which are scheduled to be approved by the school board on May 24, includes revising the student dress code in a way that "supports students' self-expression and treats all students equitably." 

Rouse said the dress code changes were also based on research into a Model Student Dress Code developed by the Oregon chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW) and presented to the Portland Public Schools Board of Education in 2015.

According to Oregon NOW's website, student dress codes and administrative enforcement "should support equitable educational access and should not reinforce gender stereotypes," or "increase marginalization or oppression of any group based on race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, household income, gender identity or cultural observance."

Rouse said on May 15 that students are currently not allowed to wear hats or hoodies while in the building and are required to wear their student IDs at all times, but uniform enforcement of these requirements, he said, has been a struggle over the years. 

If the board approves the recommended changes, students will have the option of wearing hats "facing straight forward or straight backward," according to the draft proposal, as long as the face is visible to staff. 

And students will only need to produce their IDs in certain instances, such as upon request of any faculty or staff member, for admission to events like dances and athletic events, and when checking out books from the library.  

Rouse said the longstanding prohibitions, especially pertaining to hats and hoodies, are "archaic" and applied to a time when gang-related problems intersected with how students dressed. Now, he said, is a "different time," when the correlation between hats and gangs is not a pressing issue at the school.  

"For students to lose out on instruction time because we're fighting with them over a hat or we're fighting with them over some attire is really hard-pressed when you call home and have those discussions," Rouse said. 

Some board members expressed some concerns about the extent of the changes.  

"This strikes me as a major leap," said board member Matt Baron of the dress code changes. "Once inserting something, how do you pull that back?" 

Rouse, who said the changes are not being uniformly enforced, anyway, noted that the district has tried implementing a pilot phase of the changes this semester by taking a very lax approach to dress code enforcement. 

The result, he said, has so far been a student environment that is less stressful — for students and faculty — than before. 

Rouse added he's taken a lead in discussions about dress-code policies that may be adopted by schools across the West Suburban Conference. 

"It's not just us that will have different dress codes. I expect other districts to follow suit," he said, adding that Evanston Township High School District 202 has helped frame the dialogue with its own policy changes. 

Rouse also recommended that the board approve changes to its no credit grading policy. Currently, students with 12 total absences during any semester, excused or unexcused, may receive an NP or NF grade — the former meaning the student was passing, while the latter means the student was failing, at the time no credit was given.

"In an effort to be more equitable regarding our 'NP or NF' grade policy, we recommend changing the wording from the word 'may' to the word 'will,'" Rouse said.

The new change removes faculty discretion from the process of students receiving NP or NF grades due to excessive absences. Once students reach the threshold, the NP or NF grades will be applied to students' records automatically. 

Rouse said he hopes the proposed change allows the administration to manage the process more effectively and address the reasons for why students may be absent too much.

CONTACT: michael@oakpark.com    

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Kline Maureen  

Posted: May 24th, 2018 10:28 AM

I find the hat issue to be extremely problematic. If there are issues with enforcing a "no hats/hoodies" rule in the first place, how does it become easier and more "equitable" to enforce whether it's pointed strictly forward or backwards? It's not a burdensome rule to enforce as written but it will become burdensome if the changes go into effect - why not keep it that the hat/hoodie is off in the hallways, cafeteria, library etc.? If a teacher wants to allow it within the confines of the classroom during class time, then let them have that prerogative if they feel that will improve student educational outcomes.

Kevin Peppard  

Posted: May 23rd, 2018 2:12 PM

What valid need is this policy change addressing? The purpose of the code is to nip student defiance and lack of respect in the bud. Similarly, shirts with collars were required, so that people don't show up wearing tee shirts. School is to be be taken seriously; it's not like going to a picnic.

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