CONWAY — The Conway School Board appears ready to adopt a new student dress code to permit hats, hoodies and pajama pants worn in school.
The new policy passed its first reading by a 5-2 vote Monday night.
However, Joe Mosca, the board's vice chair, at first was on the fence.
“I would like to keep it tabled,” Mosca said when the item came up on the agenda.
“We have a new policy committee, and I would like to see them meet sometime over the next two weeks, review the policy and then bring it forward to the next meeting," he said.
But fellow board member Jessica Whitelaw pointed out: “The reason it was tabled at the last meeting wasn’t that it wasn’t ready, it was because board members weren’t here."
Board chair Michelle Capozzoli reminded them: "At some point in time, it does have to be taken off the table. We keep on sending it back and forth.”
Superintendent Kevin Richard said if the board wanted to discuss the dress code, it needed to be taken off the table.
The board voted 5-2 to take the dress code off the table with Capozzoli, Randy Davison, Barbara Lyons, Ryan Wallace and Whitelaw in the majority and Cassie Capone and Mosca in the minority.
“The last time that it was tabled was because the policy committee had met, had addressed everything and submitted it, but it had not made it into our board packet,” Lyons said. “Therefore we had nothing to look at.”
“I’ll tell you right now, I won’t vote for it as it is,” said Mosca.
Davison had serious concerns about the policy.
“As an educator, I have a real concern with students being in a classroom with a hoodie on," said Davison, who teaches in MSAD 72 in Fryeburg, Maine.
"In this day and age, they have music devices (that can be hidden under a hoodie) and you have to keep asking them to take them out. That’s an issue, and also hats. I think it’s disrespectful to wear a hat in a classroom."
He added: “I don’t think we should leave it to the teacher’s discretion because what you’re doing is pitting teachers against each other.”
Capone wanted to see the policy be “black and white” and not force anyone into interpreting it.
Kennett High Principal Kevin Carpenter said the current dress code policy already “is at the teacher’s discretion. He said students have been wearing hats at school and “it would be a step backward” to restrict them.
Working with the policy committee since last October were Elizabeth Bouchard, student body president at KHS, and fellow student council members Jack Martin and Samantha Sidoti. They wanted to revamp the 2018 dress code because they said they wanted to eliminate body shaming.
Bouchard said: “Just from what I've heard from students, if we move backward and remove hats from this and hoods, and we move back to the rules that were implemented in 2018, you will find yourself with 10 times more students in this room addressing the dress code next year.
Bouchard said 70 students reached out to her and voiced concerns about what is wrong with the dress code.
“I just want to really embrace who we are doing this for, and the student body is very passionate about this policy,” she said.
Davison said: “I'd love to see the student body go to interviews with a hat on or a hoodie on and see them get hired in a professional job."
“This generation very clearly understands when it is appropriate to be in a business setting,” Bouchard replied.
Capozzoli saw two things stopping her from supporting the policy: pajama pants and no clear ruling on hats and hoodies.
"Let’s not be wishy-washy and leave it up to the discretion of the teachers,” she said.
“As an educator, I shouldn’t have to battle with any kid who comes into my classroom over whether they have their hood on or not,” Davison said.
Wallace, a police officer in Conway, had a similar opinion of pajama pants.
“I responded to calls recently with some students, and it became very clear that all they had were pajama pants,” he said.
He preferred "to take something like pajama pants and have it no longer be an option for kids where they think, if I go to school in these, I’m going to get into trouble, so I’m not going to go to school.'”
“That's exactly what I wanted to hear all year,” said Bouchard. “And I really appreciate hearing that from a board member. ... Iit is trying to get these students in school and comfortable in what they're doing. And that question of waking up in the morning being like, can I wear this to school?”
Whitelaw made a motion that hats and hoodies “may be worn as long as they don’t create a safety issue." Lyons offered a second.
The motion passed 5-2, with Davison and Mosca in the minority.
The policy will come back before the board May 23 for a second and final reading. If approved, it will become the new policy for the district.