An updated Jamestown Public Schools student dress code was included in the district’s code of conduct that was approved on Tuesday.
A public hearing on the code of conduct was held prior to a school board meeting. As Chief Information Officer Jessie Joy noted, school districts are required by New York State to establish a code of conduct and then must review those plans annually.
The student dress code is included in the Jamestown Public Schools Code of Conduct. Joy said as part of this year’s review, the district wanted to review the dress code to ensure its language did not conflict with the CROWN Act, a bill enacted in 2019 that prohibits the racial discrimination based on natural hair or hairstyles.
A committee of students, parents, teachers, and administrators helped review and update the dress code. The committee “provided a wide range of viewpoints”, said Joy. “There were some difficult conversations that they had the opportunity to facilitate as part of this process.”
Joy said the committee worked on a series of guiding questions. They understood why the district needed a student dress code; whether referral data from offices showed that there was an inequity or imbalance; whether there were examples of discriminatory practices in school dress codes; and examine how other school districts have set fair expectations for student dress.
Joy provided part of the dress code for previous students. She noted that the committee found some of her terms to be “Outdated, inappropriate or biased” which may target certain racial or ethnic groups. Examples included descriptions of headgear such as “caps” and “skull caps” as well as clothing specific to women.
“The committee had to really wrestle with some of this language to see if it could be used to target some students more than other students,” said Joy.
The new language in the student dress code approved on Tuesday is now more “general and clear” Joy said, who added, “The committee worked very, very hard to set high standards and expectations for student dress that were free of bias.”
For example, the new dress code language states: “Student attire should be safe, respectful, and responsible so as not to disrupt or interfere with the education process.”
It also indicates: “Head coverings are not permitted unless mandated by verifiable religious requirements or verifiable medical reasons”, as good as, “Clothing, including headgear, must not include items that advocate violence, sex, profanity, drugs, alcohol or tobacco, or that encourage illegal or violent activity.”
School board members unanimously approved District Code of Conduct 2022-23 later at the school board meeting.
Subsequently, Dr. Kevin Whitaker, Superintendent of Jamestown Public Schools, was asked to assist in the process of updating the student dress code.
“I think the process is important because it involved our stakeholders,” said Whitaker. “It also involved parents and children, as well as teachers, staff and administrators. It is not something that is done behind closed doors or invented by an individual. It is an engaged process that receives input from all kinds of stakeholders.