by ALEXANDRA RETTER
The Winona Area Public Schools (WAPS) Board is looking for input from students and staff members, as well as Winona community members, on a draft dress code policy that would update the definition of acceptable clothing and acceptable headwear. Like other school dress codes across the U.S., WAPS’ current policy has been criticized in recent years over its interpretation of “revealing” clothing, “gang” clothing, and headwear.
Now, the board feels it may have found an answer to those concerns — all it needs is the student and broader communities’ blessing.
Feedback on a draft policy will be received from an assortment of groups by the board’s January 23 meeting, according to the proposed input and feedback process. The groups will include students in different classes, student councils, staff members, various district committees, community members through an online forum and parent groups such as PTAs. Other groups may be included as well.
“As a parent of two boys raising them to be responsible for their own actions, my thoughts are let females, males, non-gender specific and any race wear whatever they want,” Jessica Looman told the Post. “Let them be free to express themselves in our society of freedom of expression. If someone wishes to wear religious headwear, just as if someone wishes to wear a cross on their neck, they should be allowed to do so. Our schools should be a place of inclusion, not exclusion. As long as the kids are safe, that’s what matters.”
The draft policy aims to “enhance the education of students by establishing expectations of dress and appearance that maintains a safe and healthy learning environment, supports students in developing their own positive self-image and treats all students equitably regardless of gender/gender identification, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, religion, body type/size and personal style.”
The draft policy states that students and their parents or guardians are predominantly responsible for student dress and appearance, and the policy will apply to all WAPS’ schools. All district staff would be trained and able to utilize “student/body-positive language” to consistently describe the policy so teaching and learning can take center stage and a non-discriminatory culture can flourish.
“All students and staff shall understand that they are responsible for managing their own personal distractions and bias without regulating individual students’ clothing/self-expression,” the draft policy reads.
Under the policy, students must wear clothing that includes a shirt with pants or skirt, or the equivalent, as well as shoes. Fabric is required in the front and on the sides of shirts and dresses, the policy states.
“Clothing must cover undergarments; waistbands and bra straps excluded,” it reads. “All private parts (genitals, buttocks, breasts and nipples) are to be fully covered with opaque (non-see through) fabric. Cleavage is not a private part and not required to be covered.”
The draft policy notes that excepting hats and other headwear worn as a religious observance, hats and other headwear are required to let the face remain visible and not impede with the line of sight to students or staff members. The policy states that the face and ears must be visible when wearing hoodies as well.
“Clothing must be suitable for all scheduled classroom activities including physical education, science labs, wood shop, sports uniforms and other activities where unique hazards exist, such as safety gear,” the policy reads.
Clothing that is not allowed according to the draft policy includes clothing that depicts, advertises or advocates for the use of alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, or other controlled substances; clothing that depicts pornography, nudity, or sexual acts; and clothing that depicts hate speech which targets people on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, religious affiliation, or any other protected groups.
“If the student’s attire or appearance threatens the health or safety of themselves or any other person, then discipline for dress and appearance violations should be consistent with discipline policies for similar violations,” the policy notes.
The feedback will be analyzed and shared at board meetings to make any revisions that would refine and sharpen the draft policy, the proposed input and feedback process states. The draft policy will be reviewed by Minnesota School Board Association legal counsel in addition to the district’s legal counsel.
The goal is then for the board to read the draft policy with any revisions from feedback received at its second meeting in February and for the policy to go to the board for approval at its second meeting in March. The revised policy would then be included in student-parent handbooks that the board would approve at its second meeting in June.
WAPS Board members voted at their November 21 meeting to rescind a motion that would have revised the policy using a task force rather than the current plan of gathering feedback.
“Last spring, on March 28, I presented the motion to revise the dress code policy via task force,” board member Allison Quam said. “We now have a new administration whom I believe understands the problems with the policy as it is, has a clear interest in visiting classes, talking with students, talking with staff, talking with the community, and because of that, it seemed very appropriate to go a different route with the process … but in order to do that, we need to rescind the motion that was voted on in March.”