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Sue’s Views: High school ban on hats is an unnecessary policy

On Monday, the Morris Area School Board voted 7-1 to approve the 2013-2014 parent-student handbook, which included a ban on head apparel as part of the dress code. As you might have already read, I went to that board meeting as a parent to object to this change. As I told the school board, I think the policy is too strict and unnecessary.  

According to the newly-approved district handbook, the dress code is meant to allow faculty, staff and/or administration to “correct any condition felt to be detrimental to the welfare of the student or the student body.”  I simply cannot find reason to believe that hats are detrimental to student welfare.  Sure, some folks find it annoying when kids wear their hats backwards or cockeyed, but the difference between annoying and detrimental is more than just semantics.

And this is a battle with the students that I don’t think needs to be waged.   The best advice I have ever received as a parent is, “Pick your battles.”  With that in mind, I ask the school administration, are hats the biggest problem you have?   If not, let it be. 

Don’t get me wrong, I am wholeheartedly in favor of a dress code for high school students … to a point. But first and foremost, I’m interested in whether my children are learning. That is the point of sending them to school. As I have often said, my goal as a parent is to raise children who are smarter than me and I need a quality public school to help me reach that goal. I have attended every single parent-teacher conference and I cannot recall one conversation with a teacher or with my children when a hat was cited as interfering with my son or daughter’s education. 

Prior to this policy, there were several teachers at the high school who required students to remove their hats in the classroom. Most provided a hat rack or table where students could put their hats when entering their room. In speaking with my children and their friends, they all knew and each named the handful of teachers who have that classroom rule.  And every single one of them honestly noted that on the rare occasion when they didn’t remove their hat on the way in, it was simply a case of forgetfulness, not an act of defiance or disrespect.   And I believe them.

I will also tell you, that when you bring the topic up among adults, there is also some agreement. To a person, those whom I polled said that they are annoyed when people of any age do not remove their hats when a color guard approaches, the national anthem is being played, at church or at the dining table. You can ask my kids, hats and cellphones are off at my table. 

But we as adults also noted that part of the problem with convincing kids that wearing a hat at school is disrespectful lies with the fact that teachers are dressing more and more casual these days. One person pointed out that if the school were a business environment, it would be best described as ‘business casual.’ Honestly, part of the role of a teacher has always been to set an example, and the majority of the faculty do set a rather casual example. So, what’s the fuss over hats about when some of the teachers are wearing shorts? 

Further, the argument that forcing high school students to remove their hats as a way to prepare them for ‘the real world’ is groundless.  Walk around a college campus and you’ll see those students expressing themselves with all sorts of creative clothing. And hats are an integral part of that. Additionally, there are many workplaces right here in Morris where a hat is part of the dress code, particularly for those who work outdoors and are mindful of avoiding skin cancer and overexposure to the sun.  

I do appreciate the argument that it’s disrespectful to wear a hat indoors – again to a point. But to ban all hats and caps as a way to force students to show respect is going about it all wrong. Whether students are allowed to wear hats at school doesn’t make or break their level of respect. How we as adults treat them has a lot more to do with their level of respect.  And arbitrarily banning hats is not going to result in a rush of newfound respect among students for the administration or faculty. Indeed, I think the opposite might occur.  This is just one more example of adults taking something away from the youth with no regard for their opinions. I truly do not subscribe to the notion that you can mandate respect via a dress code. 

As a final note, I will tell you, it’s harder than I expected it would be to stand in front of the school board and voice an opinion.  I’m not necessarily sure I enjoyed hearing myself on the local newscast on KMRS the next day, or being quoted on the front page of this newspaper. But there is an item on the agenda every month for visitors’ comments and I encourage you to participate in the process. It is definitely a learning experience and you’re never too old to learn something new.