Thursday, September 20, 2018
Education

Ridgewood High skirts dress code controversy; Pasco School Board backs new apparel standards at two schools

Parents whose children attend Hudson Elementary and Ridgewood High schools in the fall will want to check the schools' websites before buying new clothes for the new academic year.

The two schools won preliminary approval this week to implement tougher dress codes than ever before.

Hudson would have the Pasco school district's first mandated student uniforms of red or blue polo shirts, with khaki or blue pants, skirts or shorts. It would include an opt-out provision.

Ridgewood would more strictly limit student dress options, with students wearing polo shirts and khaki, blue or black pants. It would allow certain dresses and skirts, as well as more formal clothing such as shirts and ties with slacks. It would not have an opt-out provision, while also giving students until Oct. 18 to participate fully.

School Board member Alison Crumbley, who was initially skeptical of the idea, offered her support after listening to the school principals explain their ideas during a Tuesday workshop. She noted each campus had faced academic and discipline problems, and was hopeful that the changes would offer a step toward better results.

"I think it will be an improvement," Crumbley said. "This is, I think, a great thing to try to do."

Board members emphasized that the proposals, which still require final approval, would represent trials that could be altered or ended.

"It may succeed, or we may find out parents don't have any interest," board member Cynthia Armstrong said.

After all, chairwoman Joanne Hurley noted, no other Pasco schools have gone this direction before. "Other schools have made inquiries in the past, but nobody has gotten past the inquiry."

Some have tried. Lake Myrtle Elementary School, for instance, attempted a voluntary school uniform of green polo shirts in the late 1990s, but gave up the experiment after few students participated.

The Ridgewood plan faced some early concern, as the school did not inform parents of the idea until after classes let out in June. That did not sit well with superintendent Kurt Browning and some board members, who contended that buy in is key, particularly in a high school.

It also included a ban on dresses and skirts, which some students suggested was discrimination against girls.

Principal Angie Murphy conceded both points, offering a longer phase-in period for the new rule, and adding certain dresses and skirts to the permitted clothing list. But she held firm that Ridgewood demands a new focus and climate, and argued that a "dress for success" requirement would help.

Ridgewood, she said, "is also a school that is a million percent in need."

"We know at Ridgewood we need to do something different when it comes to engagement and increasing academic focus," she added.

Hudson Elementary has a similar, if not more dire, situation, said principal Dawn Scilex, who took over in March. Its academic performance has been poor over a decade, with the school facing a state-mandated turnaround plan after years of D and F grades.

Meanwhile, Scilex said, her interviews with students, staff and parents highlighted a need to improve behavior and a sense of belonging to the school.

"I don't want to lose sight of the bigger picture, that is to improve student achievement at Hudson," she said, calling uniforms "just a small piece" of the solution. But they can help instill pride, she explained, insisting that "it's time that we take a stand and do something different."

Parent surveys indicated support for the idea, assistant principal Tricia Ianulli said. Community business partners have said they will donate clothes for families that can't afford them, she added.

Board members asked the principals to bring back final details for consideration at the board's Aug. 2 meeting.

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

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