Superior students would be able to wear hats, hoods, pajamas and strapless tops in the classroom under a proposed new dress code policy.

It had its first reading at the Superior School Board meeting Dec. 9 and advanced to the Jan. 6 meeting for a second reading and vote.

It’s been 20 years since the School District of Superior updated its dress and grooming policy and 19 years since it updated the guidelines. An advisory group of parents, students, teachers, counselors and administrators reviewed them and got a surprise.

“Everybody counted the number of bullets in the policy that applied only to females,” said Tracy Siers, a district parent who recently retired from 30 years in the U.S. Army. “It was staggering.”

In the 2019-20 Superior High School handbook, for example, half of the 10 bullet points in the dress code target solely female attire.

“It’s an outdated dress code that was heavily weighted on shaming girls,” Board Vice President Christina Kintop said. “The way we express ourselves doesn’t hinder how we learn.”

The old policy language seemed archaic and unfair, Siers said. “I think the policy that is up for approval, I think it’s a great step in the right direction."

The current dress code has adversely affected student-teacher relations, according to Superior Middle School Assistant Principal Carrie Thompson.

“We’re having kind of negative student interactions first thing in the morning when they come in to address different dress code issues that aren’t really issues or aren’t issues anywhere else outside of our school building in the community,” she said. “This is an exciting time to be able to change that.”

The advisory group looked at policies from other districts as they worked to craft a gender-neutral dress code that would help reduce friction between students and adults while creating an environment where students are safe and can focus on learning.

“One of those things that we couldn’t help but talk about was the hat policy, because it’s part of your dress,” District Administrator Amy Starzecki said.

The group decided to give hats the green light, a decision that has been piloted at Superior High School since September.

“For the most part, everybody in the group felt it doesn’t impact teaching and learning and it’s probably an old guideline that needs to be revisited,” Starzecki said.

She and Board Member Michael Meyer noted that no-hat policies har hit marginalized groups, such as students in poverty and students of color, harder.

Meyer asked if student use of earbuds under hoods had been a problem at the high school, and Starzecki said it hadn’t. The guidelines stipulate that headwear can be worn as long as the face and ears remain visible, unless it’s religious headwear.

The new dress code guidelines specify what body parts must be covered and that students are required to wear a shirt, bottom and shoes.

The district reached out to students, teachers and staff for feedback on the policy change. Hundreds of SMS students and at least 75 SHS students responded.

“The student feedback was pretty powerful and so valuable as part of the conversation,” Starzecki said. “In general, they said, 'We want you to focus on our brains, not our bodies.'”

The decision to take a fresh look at the dress code was prompted by students themselves. Members of the high school's Empowerment Club, Gay Straight Alliance and Amnesty International brought it up at the September board meeting.

“I think it’s really cool that this was student-driven,” Kintop said. “We would never have even looked at it had they not brought that forward.”

The new policy won’t be officially adopted until Jan. 6. Starzecki said she expects the new guidelines to take effect in classrooms before the end of the school year.

“If it’s good for kids, we shouldn’t wait until next year to do this,” she said.

The proposed policy and guidelines, as well as the 2020-21 academic calendar and other items addressed during the Dec. 9 meeting, can be found in the School Board agenda packet under the "District" tab on the School District website, superior.k12.wi.us.