Legislature(1995 - 1996)
01/23/1996 03:00 PM HES
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HB 30 - SCHOOL DRESS CODES Number 140 CO-CHAIR TOOHEY asked Jonathan Sperber to come forward to testify and noted that Representative Bettye Davis, Sponsor of HB 30, was on teleconference. Number 189 JONATHAN SPERBER, Legislative Aide to Representative Betty Davis, read brief introductory statements from Representative Davis' sponsor statement and other materials regarding House Bill 30, which would provide for a dress code for public school students. He said it had been noted that the adoption of a optional school- wide uniform policy is a reasonable and economical way to provide protection for students without taking teachers away from their normal duties. This legislation would also put parents in position to choose the type of clothing they think is most suitable for their child and their child's school environment. This legislation grows out from the belief that we live in an increasingly more violent society and any steps that a school district can take to protect its students deserves careful consideration by the legislature. He emphasized the dress code would be completely optional under this legislation; no student would be forced to comply. The dress code policy would not be implemented without less than a six month notice to allow students sufficient time to purchase uniforms. MR. SPERBER noted that Representative Davis had stated in constituent correspondence that as a legislator, she has had the opportunity to travel widely throughout the United States. She was appalled at the violence that is spreading out from blighted urban centers, and she believes that any steps a school district can take to protect its students should be seriously considered. Mr. Sperber referred to an article from an issue of last month's Sacramento newspaper in which U.S. Attorney General, Janet Reno, spoke very positively of the Long Beach School District having recently adopted a uniform policy. The article further stated shortly after the policy was adopted, fighting dropped by more than half from the previous year, suspensions went down 32 percent, while crime and fighting generally were down 36 percent. Attorney General Reno said she was convinced that uniforms can make a big difference. He next referred to a letter from the Office of the Superintendent of the Long Beach School District which stated that in evaluating these programs, "the district found that use of school uniforms enhanced school safety, improved the learning environment, reduced ethnic and racial tensions, bridged socioeconomic differences between children, promoted good behavior, improved children's self-respect and self-esteem, and produced cost savings for participating families. Schools with greater compliance levels tended to enjoy commensurately better results." The Long Beach School District recommended, as Representative Davis has with this legislation, that each school develop incentives and positive enforcement measures to encourage full compliance with uniform policy, should it be adopted by a school district. In conclusion, Mr. Sperber said Lawrence Wiget, Governmental Liaison for the Anchorage School District, was scheduled to testify but had anticipated that HB 30 would be the second bill heard by the committee. If at the conclusion of public testimony for HB 30, Mr. Wiget had not yet arrived, Mr. Sperber requested that he be allowed to read into the record a paragraph from Mr. Wiget's position statement. CO-CHAIR TOOHEY noted that Representative Robinson arrived at 3:04 p.m. Number 478 CO-CHAIR BUNDE said he was not in any disagreement with Representative Davis' attempt. He thought how people dressed had a direct impact on their behavior. He referred to the voluntary compliance provision and said he thought the committee should hear from school administrators and school children and encouraged the sponsor to get some feedback from the people affected by this bill. Representative Bunde said when he thinks of uniforms, he envisions the entire school dressing the same, for the purpose of removing gang tagging and violence, ego involvement in fashions, etc. He asked if his understanding was correct that under this legislation some children may be wearing uniforms and some children may not. Number 572 REPRESENTATIVE BETTYE DAVIS, Sponsor, testified via teleconference. She stated this was not the first hearing on this legislation and there had been previous testimony from school children. She also noted that in the past students coming to Juneau from the Close-Up program had reviewed this legislation. She added this is the second committee of referral, not the first. REPRESENTATIVE B. DAVIS emphasized the word voluntary and said that school districts are not mandated. She pointed out we are not passing legislation that would say that every school district has to adopt a dress code. It would be left up to the district to decide if they wanted to adopt it as a blanket school district policy or if they wanted to allow each school to make that decision. Representative B. Davis noted we are moving now toward site-based management where the decision would be left up to the principal, students and parents to decide what the code of dress would be for that particular school. So if the school decided to adopt it, then every student that went to that school would have certain colors they would wear. Based on her experience from places she has visited, it also helps develop a great sense of pride in the school. Representative Davis' sister works at a school that adopted this policy last year, and it is highly praised by both the teachers and parents. It has cut down on the amount of money parents have to spend on clothes, and it reduced the competition for designer clothes, etc. The students wear uniforms three days a week which could be pants, skirts, dresses, but they have only certain colors that can to be worn; the next day the students wear their school colors; and the following day, which was always Friday, they are allowed to dress down in whatever they choose. She said that is just an example of how one district has implemented the dress code. Number 730 REPRESENTATIVE GARY DAVIS said currently some school districts don't require students to attend the school in their attendance area. He asked if there were any studies available that indicated if a school district gained or lost students when a dress code was adopted. REPRESENTATIVE B. DAVIS responded she has never seen any information regarding that, but her feeling is that the effect would not be that great for the school district or the school, itself. Number 810 CO-CHAIR BUNDE said he was familiar with the San Diego school system as he had talked with them when he had a bill regarding school violence. He noted San Diego solved their problem by getting rid of lockers and backpacks. He questioned whether Alaska was at the point where dress codes needed to be addressed or were we trying to get ahead of the problem and solve it before it got here. He asked Representative Bettye Davis if she had a recommendation as far as it being K-12 or K-6, with more options available at the high school level. REPRESENTATIVE B. DAVIS said she thought it might be more appropriate for K-6; however, there was nothing in this legislation that would prohibit a high school from adopting a dress code if they chose to do so. In reference to Co-Chair Bunde's comment regarding whether or not Alaska was getting ahead of the violence and related activities going on in their school districts, she commented that several years ago they were trying to determine if gangs existed in the Anchorage area. At that time everyone thought gangs were not present in Alaska, but as everyone is aware there are lots of gangs in the city now. She said everything that is done is for the protection of the children and she didn't think it was too early to start. She commented there is already at least one site-based school in the Anchorage School District and some of the school districts are moving in that direction where there will be a lot more decisions made not only by the school superintendents, but also the principals, parents and students of the individual schools. Number 938 CO-CHAIR TOOHEY commented that as a child she attended school in uniforms all the time, and didn't find them offensive at all, because there was no other choice. She asked Representative B. Davis if there was anything in the law or regulations that prohibits this from being done now. REPRESENTATIVE B. DAVIS responded there probably isn't anything that would keep a school from doing so except the school board, because they do have some autonomy and they can set a lot of things up. She felt this was a good way to show they, as state representatives, are interested in the schools and do care about what kind of education our children get. CO-CHAIR BUNDE noted that Mr. Wiget had not yet arrived and asked Mr. Sperber if he wished to read the statement from Mr. Wiget. CO-CHAIR TOOHEY said she had just spoken with Mr. Wiget and the Anchorage School District has absolutely no problem with this legislation. Number 1031 NANCY BUELL, Director, Teacher and Learning Support, Department of Education, said she wanted to address the aspect of prohibiting certain articles of clothing, and added the Department of Education is generally supportive of the legislation. Ms. Buell commented the Executive Director of the Secondary Principals' Association had recently indicated to her that he had received the department- mandated student rights and responsibilities documents and according to his observation it does include dress code. It generally speaks to prohibited items of dress. Anything to strengthen that would be welcomed and would be helping promote the safety of children. She said many of the problems do break out over slogans on T-shirts, caps, jackets, and other things worn by students that are associated with social persuasions, points of view or gangs. CO-CHAIR TOOHEY verified there is nothing in current law that says we can't do this. MS. BUELL responded there is nothing in law that states we can't do this. She added there probably isn't anything in the law that specifically says we can mandate uniforms, but that would be a matter of board policy. She agreed with previous statements that there is plenty of research which indicated that it does tend to promote a more harmonious climate of less violence. CO-CHAIR BUNDE asked Ms. Buell to address the First Amendment problems and/or religious freedom problems as they related to the prohibited items. He noted that while it isn't a large issue in Alaska, there are sects that choose to have their children dressed in a certain way. MS. BUELL said there had been some research of legal issues on this issue. They have not arisen over dress primarily, but over hair length, sideburns and beards, which along with arm bands, tend to be associated with freedom of speech. The courts have given a lot of support to administrators and teachers, especially in the last decade, for trying to do whatever they can to make the atmosphere more safe. Even limiting dress has generally been supported. She was not aware of any case, where it hadn't been supported. Religious dress is highly supported among young people, although not necessarily so for teachers. Dress codes for teachers is a whole different issue. Number 1213 REPRESENTATIVE CAREN ROBINSON asked if there was anything that needed to be put into this legislation to allow for site specific, where a school could make the determination. Or, would it have to be from the school board who would set a policy and then each school would determine whether or not they wanted to do it. REPRESENTATIVE B. DAVIS said when schools go into what is referred to site-based management, the management of the school (indisc.) down to the principal, the council, the board and the decisions are made at that level, so the overall school board would not be making that mandate; it would be left up to the schools. She said there wouldn't have to be anything in the bill to specify that a site- based management school could do it on their own, because they already have the privilege to do so. Number 1270 REPRESENTATIVE TOM BRICE said his concerns regarding the bill revolved around First Amendment issues, like Representative Bunde brought up. He noted, however, that the bill does allow the parents to exclude their children from the dress code. It also ensures that school districts implement some type of policy whereby a parent could, if for religious reasons, have their children dressed how they wanted. CO-CHAIR TOOHEY said she didn't see any need for this bill. This is already being done at the school district level. REPRESENTATIVE B. DAVIS agreed, but said the reason she introduced the legislation was because of her concern and involvement. She felt the legislature should be doing everything they could to show their support for the issue and there may be some schools who haven't done it even though they have the authority. This could be a motivating factor for some of them to actually do it. She does not feel this is wasted legislation. REPRESENTATIVE G. DAVIS said Representative Bettye Davis had just indicated that a single site school would have the authority to impose a dress code, yet the first words of the legislation state "a governing body may adopt".... REPRESENTATIVE B. DAVIS said it would be a governing body. When the school board passes business down to site-based, then a governing body exists. The governing body is made up of the principal and the council they choose, (indisc.) sit on the council would be equivalent to a school board and they decide how their money will be spent, etc. REPRESENTATIVE BRICE said he agreed with Representative B. Davis. CO-CHAIR TOOHEY said she would like to finish the teleconference testimony and then the committee could wrap up their discussion on the bill. She asked Niclole Luck to testify. Number 1444 NICLOLE LUCK, Student, testified in support of HB 30. She said while Alaska may not be as problematic as Long Beach or some of the other larger cities, she agreed a dress code is something that should be advocated if it helps avoid or defray the problems and could help to keep students safer. REPRESENTATIVE G. DAVIS asked Ms. Luck if she had seen any indication in her school district that a dress code had been discussed in the last couple of years. MS. LUCK responded there are certain things. For example, supposedly students can't wear bandannas, but it is not enforced at all. At least she has never seen any enforcement of it. REPRESENTATIVE BRICE asked Ms. Luck what high school she attended and what brought her down to testify on this legislation. MS. LUCK replied Lathrop High and they are tracking bills in their government class. REPRESENTATIVE BRICE encouraged Ms. Luck to contact his office if there was any information she needed. CO-CHAIR BUNDE said he shared Co-Chair Toohey's concern that this bill was not necessary, other than to perhaps provide an armor for the school boards in that he felt the school boards would take a lot of heat if they proposed the legislation. Personally, he would like to hear from more students and parents in his district before he moved forward on the legislation. REPRESENTATIVE BRICE said he appreciated the bill and thought it did two things. He felt it created the public debate on the issue at the state level to increase the awareness within the public about the pros and cons of a dress code. Also, he thought it clarified the statutes as to whether or not it is allowed. The statutes are not absolutely clear one way or another as to which way a school district can go. By putting the law on the books, he thought some of the murky waters on the issue would be clarified. While school districts may be able to implement a dress code, it is not clear how they would fare in court if they were challenged on the legality of whether or not school districts had the power. He pointed out this legislation would give the school districts that power and would start the public debate. CO-CHAIR TOOHEY thanked Representative Davis for her comments and said it was not her intention to move the bill out of committee today.