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Chester County Press

Policies for dress code, backpacks discussed in Oxford

09/04/2013 01:52PM ● By Acl

By Steven Hoffman

Staff Writer

The Oxford School Board scheduled a special meeting on Aug. 29 to approve several key administrative hirings as the new school year gets underway. While those hirings were approved quickly, a lengthy discussion ensued regarding policies for the student dress code and the use of backpacks at the high school.

A few dozen people—mostly students but some parents as well—filled the room to express their concerns about how the policies for the dress code and the backpacks are now being enforced.

Before school board president Jason Brady opened the floor for comments by students and parents, he shared some thoughts of his own, explaining that district officials were already working on solutions to the issues that are being raised. He noted that the dress code policy that restricts students from wearing sandals, flip-flops, tank tops, and lace tops, and jeans with holes in them was in place before this year but the rules weren't always enforced by administrators.

“This is the first year that the policy is being enforced,” Brady said. He added that when the district held focus groups and talked to stakeholders in the community about the qualities that they wanted in administrators, they kept hearing that people wanted someone who would enforce the policies and procedures that are in the handbooks.

“We went searching for a principal who was going to hold people accountable,” Brady said, referring to high school principal Christopher Dormer, who joined the district in June.

Enforcement of the dress code policy has proven to be unpopular with some students. Several girls complained at the meeting that it's difficult to know what kind of tops violate the policy. Furthermore, the clothing that is now forbidden under the dress code happens to be some of the trendy fashions that are popular with teens right now. Additionally, the girls said, some teachers in the school are violating the very policies that students are being asked to follow.

When a dress code issue arises, students must either arrange to have different clothes brought to the school or they have the option of wearing some of the clothing that is stored in the nurses' office.

Dormer said that teachers play an important role in making sure that the dress code is followed.

“The teachers have tried to be fair and reasonable,” he said. “Their enforcement of the policy has raised awareness. They also need to be role models for the students.”

Brady noted that pieces of the dress code policy—such as the restriction on flip-flops or sandals—are in place because of requirements from the school district's insurance company.

Students and parents also shared their concerns about the new policy regarding backpacks. Students are allowed to bring backpacks into the building in the morning, but they must keep them in their locker.

Brady said that the goal of the policy is to make sure that the school is as safe for students as it can be—all day long, with the hope being that the restriction on the backpacks will help prevent students from carrying around drugs, alcohol, or weapons on the premises.

Amy Carbonara, whose son is a student in the high school, said that he has to carry around books, notebooks, and folders for six classes until he has a chance to stop at his locker. As visual aide, she passed around the pile of books that her son must navigate the crowded school hallways with.

“How efficient are operations now that my son is late to class?” she asked rhetorically. “I strongly encourage {superintendent David} Mr. Woods and Mr. Dormer to abolish this capricious rule.”

A high school senior who identified herself as Jennifer told the audience that she doesn't have enough time to go to her locker for materials between classes.

“I have six classes before lunch and my locker is far away from my classes,” she said. “Because I don't have time to go to my locker, I have to carry all my books.”

Other students complained that they have been late to class because they had to make stops at their lockers that wouldn't be necessary if they could carry the backpacks.

The district will continue to analyze solutions, such as the possibility of increasing the time that students have to move from one class to another, but Dormer said that restricting the use of backpacks is an important safety measure that shouldn't simply be discounted.

“All it takes,” he said, “is one bad day from one kid.”

Dormer assured parents and students that administrators are listening to their concerns and are looking for ways to address them.

April Herr, who teaches physical education for Oxford, said that the students have impressed her by being clear about their concerns.

“The kids have been so amazing this week using the appropriate avenues to express their concerns,” she said.

Dormer said that the district will survey students about their concerns during the next week and continue to work toward a solution.

“It's going to be about all of us working together,” he said. “I want to hear from the kids on this.”

He said that having a dress code in place is important and that it's important for administrators to set expectations for the little things.

The school board did approve the hiring of three more assistant principals as the district continues to reshape its administrative team under new superintendent David Woods.

Tami Motes was named the new assistant principal at the high school. Dormer said that Motes comes to Oxford with more than 15 years of experience.

Matthew Hovanec was named the new assistant principal at the Hopewell Elementary School. The school's principal, Nicole Addis, said that Hovanec has more than 20 years of experience as an educator, including five as a dean of students.

The board approved Lisa Yingst as the new assistant principal at the Nottingham School. Principal William Vogt said that Yingst “comes to us as a very student-centered professional.” She has more than 12 years of experience in education.