AUGUSTA — The Augusta Board of Education gave a first read to an update of the public school system’s policy on its student dress code.

While the first reading was approved by a 4-2 vote, two board members saying they did not think the changes went far enough.

The board voted last Wednesday on updates to the policy that had been discussed over the past several months. The last revision to the dress code came in October 2017.

The policy — “JICA — Student Dress” — is intended to be more inclusive of gender and culture, according to school officials.

Board members Staci Fortunato and Kimberly Martin voted in opposition, saying it “does not go far enough on making changes.”

“I have some concerns over interpretations,” Fortunato said. “I don’t want female students, or any student, to feel targeted. Although there was more detail in the policy, it still felt like it spoke in broader language.”

Assistant Superintendent Katy Grondin said the policy received support from many parents, students and staff members. Respondents had to specify if they were students, teachers or residents. Only two students responded.

Grondin said she put out a survey referencing every school policy for which updates were being proposed and on which the school board was to vote last week. She said the policy on the student dress code generated the most responses, at 21. Each of the other proposed policy changes prompted about four responses.

The survey asked three questions: If there is a need for the policy, if it is positive short term and if it is positive long term. Responses were mixed on each question.

Respondents were allowed to share their opinions on the dress code policy, with a majority asking school officials define terms, such as “revealing” and “suggestive clothing.”

“Please define what ‘revealing and suggestive’ means,” one resident wrote. “This is too broad and subjective. Does this apply to all genders?”

The updated policy for the student dress code adds the school system’s values, goals and guidelines, while outlining training for students and teachers, according to officials.

The former policy was less extensive, with only seven rules. For example, the former policy stipulated students were not allowed to wear “clothing that is revealing or suggestive,” while the new policy outlines in detail what may and may not be worn.

The only changes that have been made to the policy are that students are now allowed to wear hats and hooded sweatshirts.

The list of items students may not wear has been updated, too, to include clothing with violent language or images, images of drugs or hate speech. Students are also prohibited from having visible undergarments.

The updated dress code “should support equitable educational access and should not reinforce gender stereotypes. Student dress code and administrative enforcement should not reinforce or increase margination or oppression of any group, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, household income, gender identity, or cultural observance,” according to the policy.

Previously, students were simply advised to “use sound judgement and reflect respect for themselves in choice of dress and grooming.”

The updated policy also gives direction to school administrators on how to enforce the dress code, while the former policy provided no clear instruction on how to discipline those who broke the code.

The updated policy stipulates school administrators be trained to understand why the dress code is in place and how to enforce it consistently and fairly. They also must use “student and body positive language” to explain the code and why a student might have broken it.

Fortunato and Martin said the changes to the school dress code were a good start, but more need be done.

“I do think there is more work, and I think we should work with the high school kids to have their voices heard,” Fortunato said. “They are the ones wearing the clothes, and we don’t want them to think their clothes define who they are.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been edited and updated to correct several errors.


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