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School board bans hats in new high school dress code

MORRIS, Minn. – The Morris Area School Board voted 7-1 on Tuesday in favor of a new handbook for Morris Area High School that, among other changes, alters the dress code to ban hats or caps at the high school.

During visitor comments parent Sue Dieter, who served on a committee that offered input on the handbook, asked the school board to reconsider the ban on wearing hats or caps. Dieter is also the publisher of the Morris Sun Tribune.

“I think that’s a little too strict and a little unnecessary,” said Dieter, noting that teachers who object to students wearing hats already address the issue in their individual classrooms.

“All of the students know when they walk into the classroom if they have to take a cap off or not,” she said. “I just think that it’s not a necessary policy, that it does really, nothing, to improve the quality of education at the Morris Area High School.”

Board member Dick Metzger, who also consulted on the handbook, said the policy change was initiated by MAHS Principal Craig Peterson as an issue of respect for teachers.

Board member Norm Nissen asked whether Metzger thought removing the ban on hats would undermine teachers in the classroom.

Metzger said he thought it would undermine Peterson more than teachers. Metzger also said that, to his knowledge, teachers hadn’t commented on the issue.

“If our administration deems it necessary to not allow caps within the classrooms, I guess I’m going to support them on that one,” said Board member Brent Fuhrman.

Fuhrman did point out some “growing pains” with the policy, including how it was enforced during cold weather, both inside and outside the building.

Superintendent Scott Monson said one of the concerns he’s heard is that students don’t always respond appropriately when going from classrooms that allow hats to those that don’t. Part of the change is to make expectations consistent across the school, he said.

“I’ll be honest, when I started here nine years ago I couldn’t believe that you folks allowed hats in the high school,” said Monson. “I didn’t push for that change because nobody really seemed like it was very important, but to me it’s a very large respect issue.”

“It isn’t just respect, it’s an issue for kids they need to realize they’re in school to learn things,” agreed Board Chair Kurt Gartland. “It isn’t just relaxing time in school. … It helps keep everybody focused on why they’re in school.”

Board members Gartland, Metzger, Nissen, Fuhrman, Jamie Solvie, Robyn Van Eps and Stan Wulf voted to approve the handbook. Board member Robin Anderson cast the only dissenting vote.

The full text of the MAHS dress code reads as follows:

I. Dress Code (See pictures below)

The matter of student dress and appearance is primarily the responsibility of students and their parents. However, good dress and grooming is a positive factor in creating an educational atmosphere conducive to serious academic study. With this in mind, faculty, staff, and/or administration will correct any condition felt to be detrimental to the welfare of the student or of the student body. The dress code disallows clothing including but not limited to:

• clothing or accessories must not display racial or ethnic slurs/symbols, gang affiliations, vulgar, obscene, distasteful, subversive or sexually suggestive language or images, nor should they promote products such as alcohol, tobacco, and legal or illegal drugs or other distracting apparel.

• clothing which has been torn, ripped, or cut in any way that bares the anatomy or undergarments, or makes the clothing overly suggestive or revealing.

• shirts, blouses, skirts and dresses must completely cover the abdomen, back and midriff area. Shirts or tops must cover the waistband of pants, shorts or skirts with no midriff visible. No see-through clothing.

• large, long and/or heavy chains, studded or chained accessories.

• short skirts, shorts or revealing clothing.

• pants must be worn at the waist and fastened so they'll remain in that position. (No sagging allowed.)

• head apparel (hats, caps, skullcaps etc.)

• footwear is required and must be safe for indoor/outdoor activity (No wheelies are allowed to be worn in the high school building).

• any clothing, dress or piercings that “disrupts the general learning process or causes a disruption towards the school culture and climate”

On Tuesday, the board also approved handbooks for support staff and Morris Area Elementary School students and parents.