Ridgewood High students, parents begin protest of school dress code
A handful of students and parents protested Ridgewood High School's recently imposed stricter dress code rules on Tuesday, both outside the Pasco County school and at the district School Board meeting.
Their key accusation: That the school administration was taking students out of classes for minor infractions, such as too large logos, essentially disrupting learning for looks.
Parent Rodney Polansky brought told the board that his son, freshman Blake Szafran, was sent out of class for wearing a black t-shirt and white and black plaid shorts, but not when he wore a sparkly green cocktail dress. If the reason for the rules was to focus on education and reduce distractions, Polansky told the board, the result appeared the opposite.
"The dress code is ridiculous at best," parent Sarah Mallett told the board, adding that she cannot afford to buy new clothing to meet the rules.
Meanwhile, at the school, senior Hunter Banaciski, who first called for the protest on his Facebook page, got sent to in-school suspension in trouble for wearing a t-shirt bearing the logo of his older brother's military unit, which did not meet code, according to his father, Kenny Banaciski.
"There are over 100 kids now being dress-coded," Kenny Banaciski said. "They are being put in portables because there are so many of them. ... It's crazy."
He noted photos on Facebook showing students out of dress code, protesting the rule that took effect on Oct. 18.
Ridgewood school officials could not be reached because of phone problems at the district. District leaders were cautious in their comments about the activities.
Superintendent Kurt Browning and board member Cynthia Armstrong both stressed that the school is running a pilot project with its rules. They have asked the principal to bring statistics back to them in the spring, to see if it had the desired effect.
"We will see how it goes," Armstrong said. "But it is too early to judge."
Browning added that he has asked area superintendent Todd Cluff to investigate the student and parent complaints, to "make sure we are holding true to the purpose of a modified dress code. ... I want to make sure there is some level of common sense."
Board member Steve Luikart, a retired high school assistant principal, agreed that the key issue must be results.
"I was there last week, and talked to students and teachers," he said. "Grades are going up. Discipline (referrals) are going down. The students are actually seeing an improvement. Yes, you're going to have the 1 percent to 2 percent who don't agree with it. I might not even agree with it."
He suggested that everyone look back at the reasons behind the policy and try to make sure they get addressed.
At least one parent had that concept in mind, as she emailed principal Angie Murphy on Tuesday morning.
"I just felt that, in light of the very small protest going on across the street from RHS, I wanted to let you know I fully support the modified dress code," wrote Marie Angerame. "I can see the pride that it is building in the kids. They look neat and clean, and I do believe how a person looks can help them feel good about themselves and encourages them to accomplishment more than they thought they could!"