MOUNT CARMEL — The Mount Carmel Area School Board at their regular meeting Thursday postponed a vote regarding amendments to the dress code policy after hearing concerns from parents.
The board unanimously approved a motion by boardmember Tony Mazzatesta to table the second and final reading of the updated policy. Prior to the vote, parents had questioned the board on various topics, including the purpose of the code and whether parents could afford acceptable clothing.
A letter dated June 18 from the district regarding policy changes made “this past spring” was included in student report cards. General guidelines, it stated, now prohibits various items such as hooded shirts, leggings, yoga pants, sweatpants, flip flops, hats and bandanas.
Voting in favor to table the policy were Mazzatesta, President Donna James, James Britt, Jessica Delaney, William Brecker, Edward Zack, Michael Venna, Joseph Zanella and Brian Shurock.
One audience member, who identified herself as a parent of a third-grader, expressed concern that the elimination of sweat pants could cause a problem for her son who has “trouble with buttons.” She said her son “did not look like a homeless man” when he wore the pants.
“I don’t understand the point of pulling the jogging pants part of the dress code when we are also a public school,” she said to the board.
The parent said her son had worn the pants the past two school years, but was informed by Delaney that “sweat-pant material was never allowed.”
“Well, the problem is that some people enforce the dress code and some people did not — it is being enforced now. It was never allowed,” Delaney commented.
When asked about the possible elimination of studded jewelry, James responded it is regarding bracelets with spikes and similar jewelry.
Junior high school Principal Pete Cheddar informed the gallery that the high school secretaries are well versed in the policy and can answer questions from parents.
Speaking from the gallery, elementary school counselor Carleen Zlockie stated that around 70% of students receive free lunches and that the district is living in a cultural of poverty. She said “closets” of clothing donated by the community will no longer be acceptable in the schools, if the amendments are adopted.
“What is our purpose? It really needs to be considered,” she said while holding up a pair of pants that may no longer be permitted. “Let’s teach acceptable dress. Let’s teach modest dress. Let’s teach good choices … Let’s offer that type of education.”
Delaney responded by stating that “a lot of the changes” were made at the request of teachers.
Danielle DeFrancesco told the board that her daughter is an honor student and dresses well, but is afraid to attend school.
“She is afraid to go to school because a teacher is going to pull out a ruler and she is going to be down in the office,” she said, referencing an existing rule that skirts and dresses be no more than 4 inches above the knees. “This is the problem with the dress code. You are shaming these kids.”
She recommended that the district have a conservative dress code that pushes responsibly onto the parents and addresses infractions privately.
Following public comments, Superintendent Bernie Stellar stressed the importance for the district to receive feedback from parents.
He told the gallery, “Thank you all for coming here and expressing your concerns about the dress code. … Some of us are parents. We have concerns, as well, and it’s nice to hear your concerns.”