Dress code changes announced in Warren

By Josette Keelor

FRONT ROYAL — On Thursday evening, in what might have been its shortest meeting ever, Warren County School Board members approved a new policy addressing students’ clothing choices.

School Board member Joanne Cherefko raised concerns following a quick report by Director of Finance Robert Ballentine on May 2014 policy reviews submitted by the Virginia School Boards Association.

“There are drastic changes to the student dress code,” Cherefko said. “The things that now are prohibited, I just can’t imagine how administrators are going to deal with the situation because, as we know, a lot of this type of clothing is prevalent in high schools all over the country.”

The section of the policy concerning student dress previously allowed for interpretation of clothing that “causes disruption, distracts others from the educational process or creates a health or safety problem.”

Now, long paragraphs detail appropriate dress for students in kindergarten through 12th grade:

“Clothing should fit, be neat and clean, and conform to standards of safety, good taste and decency. Clothing that exposes cleavage, private parts, the midriff, or undergarments, or that is otherwise sexually provocative, is prohibited. Examples of prohibited clothing include, but are not limited to: sagging or low-cut pants, low-cut necklines that show cleavage, tube tops, halter tops, backless blouses or blouses with only ties in the back, clothing constructed of see-through materials and head coverings unless required for religious or medical purposes.

“Additionally, disciplinary action will be taken against any student taking part in gang-related activities that are disruptive to the school environment, which include the display of any apparel, jewelry, accessory, tattoo, or manner of grooming that, by virtue of its color, arrangement, trademark, or any other attribute, denotes membership in a gang that advocated illegal or disruptive behavior,” the report states.

“I think there’s going to be a learning curve,” Cherefko said. She said she expects many students will be sent home for dress code violations.

“I hope it’s not overwhelming, but I think it will be, in the beginning,” she said.

Another new policy, titled “Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting,” requires schools to post a notice visible for staff listing suspicions of abuse or child neglect, “including any child who may be abandoned.”

“All persons required to report cases of suspected child abuse or neglect are immune from civil or criminal liability or administrative penalty or sanction on account of such reports unless such person has acted in bad faith or with malicious purpose,” the policy states.

The policy includes a written interagency agreement requiring an investigation of reports against school personnel describing child abuse and neglect, as well as reports of sexual abuse of a student.

Also at the meeting, Superintendent Pam McInnis reported on the approval of the School Board Association’s standalone option to fund Warren County’s proposed new middle school, and a discussion of plans for autumn tours of Warren County Middle School by alumni classes of 1954, ’64, ’84 and ’94.

“It’s always fun to see those reunion tour classes,” McInnis said.

Following community member complaints in the Sept. 11 board meeting, the school bus route in question was restored to its previously scheduled time, Assistant Superintendent for Administration Melody Sheppard said after the meeting.

There was no community participation at Thursday night’s meeting, and, closing the meeting, Chair Catherine R. Bower commented with a laugh, “We just set a record for fastest meeting.”

The next School Board meeting will be at 7 p.m. Oct. 23, following a 6 p.m. work session. A special meeting at 4 p.m. on Oct. 14 will cover a custodial management services contract, superintendent search firm request for proposals, and meetings to interview superintendent search firms and interview candidates for the Shenandoah District School Board member.

Contact staff writer Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137, ext. 176, or jkeelor@nvdaily.com