Legislature(1995 - 1996)

01/23/1996 03:00 PM House HES

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= 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                 
 CO-CHAIR TOOHEY noted that Representative Robinson arrived at 3:04            
 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            
 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,                
 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                 
 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               

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