Audience member addresses clothing policy at BOE meeting

By ALICIA FEYERHERM

The Hays USD 489 Board of Education met July 18, electing board leadership for next year. 

Craig Pallister was elected as board president. Ken Brooks was elected as board vice president. Jess Reling and Renae Booth were elected as board clerk and deputy board clerk, and Carla Fellhoelter was elected board treasurer.

During public comment, parent Mary Turner brought forward concerns that clothing referencing Satanism was prohibited in the school handbook dress code. 

“While children of other faiths can wear clothing that declares their family’s religion, my family’s faith is specifically called out and banned in the school handbook dress code,” Turner said.

Turner said the rule goes against the school’s nondiscrimination policy stating no one will be discriminated against based on religion.

“I’m here to ask that the school board remove Satanism from their dress code policy and that they no longer blacklist my family’s faith and the faith of other families here in Hays as distracting, unsafe or offensive,” Turner said. 

Later in the meeting, the dress code issue was addressed by board members when reviewing the handbooks. 

The high school handbook states: “Attire worn in observance of a student’s religion are not subject to this policy. Questions should be directed to administration.” Whereas the middle school and elementary handbooks state: “ Items of apparel that are considered distracting, unsafe, offensive, revealing or suggestive (direct or indirect reference to alcohol, drugs, sex, profanity, gang affiliation, Satanism, tobacco, etc.) should not be worn.”

Board member Meagan Zampieri-Lillpopp advocated for the removal of the mention of Satanism. 

“We specifically say the name of one religion in the ‘no’  list and I would challenge someone to put their own religion in that space and see how it feels,” Zampieri-Lillpopp said.

Superintendent Ron Wilson said the issue is not with the religion itself, but about disruptions in the classroom.

“If some attire is causing disruptions inside of the school because of what it says or what message it gives, sometimes that’s where that is revoked,” Wilson said.

Zampieri-Lillpopp argued any statement could be disruptive depending on the person. 

“The disruption is not the clothing,” Zampieri-Lillpopp said. “The disruption is the person behaving in a disruptive manner.”

Board Member Curt Vajnar taught in the district for more than 30 years and disagreed clothing is not a disruption, bringing up when Big Johnson shirts were a trend.

“Some things they can put on a shirt is a distraction, and you’re dealing with that and not teaching,” Vajnar said.

Wilson said the issues harken all the way back to the Vietnam War.

“People started wearing attire that made statements about the war and their feelings, and that’s really what became the test case for schools in terms of being able to manage dress codes,” Wilson said.

Other changes to the handbooks this year include changing the Learning Center to Hays Virtual School and changing the grading scale to a 90, 80, 70, 60 scale. Hays High’s handbook also now includes a disciplinary point system with individual violations listed with assigned point values for each violation and list of disciplinary actions to be taken. If a student reaches 20 points, a hearing will be scheduled for long-term suspension or expulsion.

The board will review the handbooks again on Aug. 5. This will give the board time to review and revise while also getting the handbook published before the start of the school year.

“We’ll talk to the administrators and try to get some agreement from them on what they would feel comfortable with and then we’ll bring it back to you on (Aug. 5),” Wilson said.

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