Brown Deer schools to examine dress code throughout fall semester

Published on: 7/24/2013

Brown Deer — The decision to institute a stepped-up dress code at the least, and school uniforms at the most, will be put off until after the coming fall semester.

At the behest of Superintendent Deb Kerr, the School Board in recent meetings has considered district-wide school uniforms, an idea which has been met with mixed feedback from the board and district residents.

At a Tuesday meeting, the board considered a dress code policy with a list of suggested outfits which, while not a school uniform policy, was too close for comfort.

Though board members agreed among themselves to strike the suggested outfits from the policy altogether, and thereby remove any semblance of a uniform requirement, they later decided to put the whole policy on the backburner until the district can poll students and parents throughout the fall semester and administrators can come up with a way to enforce the current dress code.

"Last month we said we were going to have conversations with all the stakeholders, and we didn't," said board member Kevin Klimek. "I'm hesitant of even talking about this until we have the conversation."

Enforcement a key issue

Board member Dennis Griffin noted that it will be difficult to balance enforcement of the dress code with teachers' other responsibilities and instruction time.

"I don't want my highly skilled professionals enforcing dress codes," said Griffin. "They have better things to do."

Board members and some of the residents in attendance agreed the district needs to enforce the dress code it has now before it can create new rules.

"Either you don't like the way kids are dressed, or you can't do you job as administrators, because you can't enforce a policy," said resident and staunch uniform opponent Don Johnston. "If you aren't going to execute the policy now, how are you going to enforce them going foward?"

Board members agreed, though the question of how to effectively enforce the current dress code without consuming classroom time is a difficult one. The board tossed around ideas ranging from more traditional punishments to a policy which, by stopping students from going to prom if they have outstanding fees with the district, enforces itself without taking staff time.

"There are a range of consequences we could put in place to make it known that this is important and that we're serious," said board President Gary Williams.

While no specific enforcement measures were approved Tuesday, the board made it clear that district administrators should be looking into both the scope of dress code violations and possible enforcement measures while soliciting input from students and teachers on the broader dress code topic.

Feedback mixed

Residents in the audience were torn over the idea of school uniforms, with a nearly equal number speaking for and against it.

Johnston said simply, "My kids will not comply. They will not comply even if it is mandatory."

For him, dress is also an issue of district diversity and student expression. "You can't pick and choose what diversity is appropriate," Johnston said.

Brown Deer High School junior Aaron Weichart told the board that he has "probably one shirt that's acceptable under the (proposed) dress code. He also chastized the board and administration for "hiding behind the term dress code. Call it was it is: a uniform policy."

Other uniform opponents said the district hasn't done a good enough job getting feedback from residents.

"Nobody seems to have been reached out to for their opinion," said resident Dennis Murphy.

Tammy Mamayek, a district nurse who supports the idea of uniforms in school, said uniforms would bring prestige to the district.

"People see that. It's pride," said Mamayek. "It shows that we're a community and we belong here."

While resident Marie Hoppe said she understands the awkward situation dress code enforcement puts teachers in, something needs to be done.

"I'm 100 percent in favor of something different that what's being done now," said Hoppe.

Resident Chris Frede, who has one student in a private school with uniforms and another in the Brown Deer district, argued that uniforms cut down on inappropriate dress and time-consuming enforcement.

"Your child's need for creative expression does not trump my child's need for instructional time," Frede said.