by SARAH SQUIRES and ALEXANDRA RETTER
Members of the Winona Area Public Schools (WAPS) Board will discuss at their Thursday meeting how to go about revising the district dress code policy. In the recent past, concerns have been voiced by some students, students’ parents and board members regarding the interpretation of “skimpy” apparel, “gang” apparel and headwear.
Superintendent Annette Freiheit said the board is looking at making the policy “more open.” “We’re just going to make sure the policy reflects what kids want to wear that’s appropriate for a public setting and ensure that it’s well communicated with staff, as to the dress code, and if there’s a violation, how to go about dealing with that,” Freiheit shared.
Board member Allison Quam earlier this year proposed a task force be formed that would include district and community stakeholders to examine the policy. She voiced concerns about how language in the policy might be interpreted as well as questioned whether the ban on student headgear might present barriers to students’ religious garments.
“It’s based on stories and anecdotes I’ve heard from the community for several years,” Quam told the Post in May when she proposed the task force. “Also, as someone who identifies as a woman, I know what it feels like to wear something and have others comment and make presumptions about me.”
According to the policy, “Hats are not allowed in the building except with approval of the building principal.” The policy notes that “Appropriate clothing includes, but is not limited to, the following: Clothing appropriate for the weather, clothing that does not create a health or safety hazard and clothing appropriate for the activity (i.e., physical education or the classroom).”
The policy states that “Inappropriate clothing includes, but is not limited to … Objectionable emblems, badges, symbols, signs, words, objects or pictures on clothing or jewelry communicating a message that is racist, sexist, or otherwise derogatory to a protected minority group, evidences gang membership or affiliation or approves, advances or provokes any form of religious, racial or sexual harassment and/or violence against other individuals.”
In 2016 and 2017, the WAPS community held several forums to discuss the presence of the Confederate flag on school grounds after a man known to fly the flag on his truck struck an African-American child with his vehicle and was assaulted by onlookers. Students then noted it was being displayed at the high school, which contributed to racial tensions there. During the forum, several students noted that students of color were barred from wearing bandanas at the school over claims they were gang apparel, while white students were allowed to wear them.
Over the course of these forums and meetings, the concept of banning the Confederate flag from school grounds was discussed, but then-Superintendent Stephen West warned it could be a violation of the First Amendment. Instead, he said if it disrupted the learning environment at the school, it would be removed.
Administrators also removed language from the high school handbook barring bandanas, but the district’s actual dress code policy has not been revisited since 2014.
“Gang” is defined in the policy as “any ongoing organization, association or group of three or more persons, whether formal or informal, having as one of its primary activities the commission of one or more criminal acts, which has an identifiable name or identifying sign or symbol.”
The board will meet at 6 p.m. this Thursday, November 7, at Winona City Hall.