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School Committee Discusses Results Of Dress Code Survey

May 25, 2017 05:09AM ● By Andrew Sylvia

School Committee member Sabrina Heisey introduced her fellow board members to results of a recent community survey on the topic of dress codes in Dracut’s public schools during their meeting on Monday.

The survey, which elicited over 200 responses, questioned the validity of flip-flops, visible tattoos and high heels within the schools, but found little issue with tank tops, shorts and skirts.

Support for allowing tank tops coincided with a need for greater gender equity in dress code enforcement, with some survey respondents indicating that garments such as tank tops brought different responses between male and female students.

Other concerns in the survey included a desire not to shame children over clothing, the need to have differing policies depending on age, freedom of expression, the need for more or less clothing based on temperatures within the schools, and potential school uniforms.

The concept of school uniforms got support from School Committee chairman Joe Wilkie, who cited that mandatory school uniform usage in U.S. schools grew 8 percent from 1999 to 2013.

“You look at some of the most high performance school districts, school uniforms are part of that culture,” he said.

Dracut School Department superintendent Steven Stone told the committee that he hasn’t heard an official complaint on the school’s current dress code policy in five years.

Currently, Stone indicated that potential concerns with dress code violations were addressed informally by school principals, who then generally aim to resolve the problem in a manner that is respectful to the students involved.

Over the past calendar year, Stone estimates that just over a dozen of these informal conversations occurred.

Under Chapter 71 of Massachusetts General Law, the only topics that dress code policies can address are health, safety and cleanliness.

However, School Committee legal counsel Brian Akashian noted that particular chapter of state law applied to towns that had officially accepted it, and there was no indication of its acceptance by Dracut in the past.

Additionally, he said that case law had clear precedent allowing school districts to prohibit certain articles of clothing they believe may be disruptive to the learning process.

Full results of the survey were not immediately available at the meeting. The topic was deferred to a subcommittee for further analysis.

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