District close to vote on controversial dress code issue

By: April Lehmbeck | Online Only | Published February 4, 2011


After months of committee work that involved district officials, parents and others, a new dress code proposal was presented to the East Detroit Public Schools board, which plans to cast its vote at its next regular board meeting.

If the committee’s proposal is implemented without any tweaks, students will have a dress code next year with specific styles and colors of clothes. However, it is a dress code that would allow parents to still shop at local stores instead of buying clothes from a uniform catalog.

School Board Secretary and dress code committee member Margaret Podsiadlik presented the proposed dress code to the board at its Feb. 3 meeting. However, not everyone on the board agreed that the dress code should span all grades in the first year, and at least one board member thinks the board should avoid any changes altogether.

“I can’t see the real educational benefit here,” Board Trustee Matthew Vroman said, adding that for those students who are already following the dress code, this is punitive.

He said a better idea is to implement a policy of corrective action for students who miss a certain number of homework assignments.

“That’s an educational outcome that we should be talking about,” Vroman said. “Let’s focus our decisions on student achievement.”

Officials are hoping people step forward with more feedback about the proposal before the board votes on the issue. The district also is planning to get a legal opinion on the matter to make sure that mandating a dress code doesn’t open them up to litigation in the future.

If implemented as it’s presented, the new code would include polo-style shirts in white, navy, light blue or winter green; and pants, shorts or skorts in navy, black or khaki.

Under the proposal, students would have to wear clothes that fit properly to avoid things like pants that are too baggy and falling down.

“It’s a difficult thing for a board of education to have to make the kinds of decisions such as this,” Board Trustee Paul Seibert said.

Those in favor of a dress code change believe that this affects student behavior as well as achievement. It also becomes a safety issue because it will be easier for school officials to determine who is a student and who is in the building that shouldn’t be, some say.

The committee conducted surveys in the lower schools and found that the responses were almost evenly split between those who were in favor of a new dress code and those who are not.

There wasn’t much of a need to see where things stood opinion-wise at the high school level. Students have already come forward in recent months in opposition of a new dress code, including one student at the Feb. 3 board meeting who said the district just needs to enforce the code it has now.

“Basically at the high school, the vast majority of kids do not want uniforms,” Podsiadlik said.

“Some of them felt that we were taking away their creativity,” she said.

Because there have been concerns raised by parents about the cost of buying specific items of clothing, Podsiadlik mentioned that she purchased four outfits in four different sizes and the cost was about $15 per outfit.

The committee did not make any recommendations to change policy on belts or shoes.

One idea that the committee discussed was providing an opportunity for parents to get together to pass down quality clothes that their children grow out of after the dress code is implemented.

“I like the idea of the clothes swap,” Seibert said.

Even some who support a new dress code question whether this is the time to implement one with a major reconfiguration in the elementary schools coming up.

They feel maybe it’s too much change in one fell swoop.

When asked her opinion on whether to implement a dress code for kindergarten to 12th-grade, Superintendent Joanne Lelekatch said she was in favor of starting in the younger grades.

“If we’re going to implement something this huge, I think we might want to start small,” she said. “It becomes what the kids are used to. It’s a tough call. I think we want to do it well and we want to start slow, make sure it’s part of the culture.”

Some of the board members also expressed their desire to see it start in the lower elementary first.

“I’m not for it being pushed through every grade,” Board President Carol Corrie said.

The next regularly scheduled board meeting is Feb. 17.