Monday, September 24, 2018
Education

More than 60 students cited for violations in Ridgewood High dress code protest

Pasco County's Ridgewood High saw an increase in dress code referrals Tuesday as a committed group of opponents protested the school's stricter clothing rules.

Some students and parents also spoke out against Ridgewood's recently imposed regulations both outside the 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 Nike logos larger than a quarter, essentially disrupting learning for looks.

Parent Rodney Polansky told the board that his son, freshman Blake Szafran, was sent out of class last week for wearing a black T-shirt and white-and-black plaid shorts — but not when he wore a sparkly green cocktail dress to challenge the dress code. If the rules were meant to 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 in trouble for wearing a T-shirt bearing the logo of his older brother's military unit, which did not meet code. His younger brother, who wore a similar shirt, left school rather than change.

Students out of dress code "are being put in portables because there are so many of them," said Kenny Banaciski, their father. "It's crazy."

Several teens posted on Facebook that they got referrals for wearing items including a T-shirt with a picture of a quarter on it, a black-and-white floral sweater hoodie, and a band shirt.

District spokeswoman Linda Cobbe said the school logged 63 dress code violations, compared to about 20 on the second day of enforcement, Oct. 19. Of the 63, 22 accepted in-school suspension.

Hunter Banaciski, who won support for his efforts from the Greater Tampa Bay Area chapter of the ACLU, estimated the participation was higher but had no specific numbers. He said he agreed to change his clothing Tuesday after being told he was in violation. He also expressed disappointment that the school used so many resources, including a bulked up law enforcement presence, just to deal with dress code.

"They have much larger fish to fry in Pasco County than our extremely peaceful protest," he said.

Cobbe said two extra officers were on campus in case things got out of hand.

District leaders were cautious in their comments about the protests.

Superintendent Kurt Browning and School Board member Cynthia Armstrong stressed that the school is running a pilot project. They have asked the principal Angie Murphy to report statistics back to them in the spring, to see if it had the desired effect.

The board approved the modified dress code in the summer. An early concern arose that the school administration did not publicize the concept or seek input until after classes had let out.

"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 current 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. Maybe after that, the dress code might not be necessary, he said.

Not everyone hated on the rules, despite the protest.

"I fully support the modified dress code," parent Marie Angerame wrote Tuesday in an email to Murphy. "I can see the pride that it is building in the kids."

But the battle looks likely to continue.

"As parents, we have decided to protest outside the school again tomorrow," Patty Morris posted on Facebook Tuesday. "We are doing this to support the children who think the modified dress code is unreasonable."

They also plan to attend the School Board's evening meeting on Nov. 15.

"I feel like I'm making waves right now," Hunter Banaciski said. "This will be continuous until Mrs. Murphy decides to officially repeal the dress code … or decides she won't enforce it."

Cobbe said the disciplinary actions for repeated violations can grow more severe, and the school has no plan to stop enforcing the rule.

Contact Jeffrey S. Solochek at (813) 909-4614 or [email protected] Follow @jeffsolochek.

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