District head opposes dress code

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By Don Pace

If Las Vegas City Schools Superintendent Rick Romero had his way, the district wouldn’t have its dress code.

Superintendent Rick Romero, the Las Vegas City Schools board, and teachers and staff had a candid discussion on the district’s dress code at last week’s school board meeting.

Romero told the board that he has received requests from parents that the dress code at elementary schools be done away with or revised.

“I’ve talked to each of you (board members) individually throughout the year about this. It is one of those Pandora’s boxes, and I’m not sure how to deal with it,” Romero said. “Personally, I don’t think we have to impose the restrictions to the degree that I think we have. Whether a child has their shirt tucked in or not, we are losing the message. The message is you’re here for an education. So I have my own reservations about the dress code.”

Romero said he has not seen the gang activity that essentially created the need for a dress code.

Board President Phillip Vigil said he was inclined to have a dress code that sent a message to drug lords that they didn’t have a key that opened the school to gang-affiliated dress.

“I can see the other side, too, where a grandmother wants to see her granddaughter wear dresses to school. I have no problem with that,” Vigil said.

Vice President Ramon “Swoops” Montaño said he has visited other school districts that don’t have strict dress codes.

“I’ve heard the multitude of concerns — that with a liberal dress code, you can tell the rich kids from the poor kids,” Montaño said.

Montaño said even though the kids wear matching colors, everyone knows if the clothes are bought from a high-priced or chain store.

“Some people can afford the best things and some people can’t, but it’s not about that. As you (Romero) said, we’re losing the whole focus here, which should be on education,” Montaño said. “Other schools are already allowing students to wear jeans instead of uniforms.”

Board member Patrick Romero said, “We still have clothes (uniforms) available at every school site in case someone needs it, and I don’t think a teacher is going to send a child home because they’re wearing Levi’s.”

The other board members turned to Romero and said, “They do.”

“Yes, they send them home, Doc. If they are violating the dress code, they’ll send them home,” the superintendent said.

New Memorial Middle School Principal Aylene Griego said she was on the original committee, and at the time, there were issues related to gang activity at the schools. She said she would favor a committee to take a look at revising policy, but argued that children at the elementary- and middle-school levels benefit from a sense neatness and order.

“And they look pretty sharp in a polo shirt and khaki pants,” Griego said.

• • •

Associate Superintendent LeeEtte Quintana said the dress code policy allows students to wear jeans on Friday.

Montaño asked if that was district-wide. Griego noted it didn’t apply to the middle school, but recommended it be changed.

The high school doesn’t have any policy requiring uniforms.

Montaño used the example of kids wearing costumes to school on Halloween, which doesn’t fit into dress code policy.

“Kids come wearing masks and costumes, but God forbid if they wear a red shirt with an alligator on it. I’ve heard it before, I’ve seen it, where the parents are called telling them to take their kids home to change,” Montaño said.

Griego said Halloween is a planned activity.

Montaño said a planned activity doesn’t trump policy. He argued that every time the district deviates from policy, there is a group that lets officials know about it.

Romero agreed.

“Last year, we tried to have some forward thinking that provided for flexibility and people played the policy card on us. When certain ranks bind together and decide they want something, it’s hard to manage that.”

Quintana said besides her position in the school district, she is also a mother of five.

“I know parents have different opinions, but I love the dress code because if you have teenage daughters, you know it might take them two hours to decide what top to wear,” she said. “If you have a dress code, their choices are limited, and you’re right, it’s about education. It’s not about who has the cutest top that day. So I think it’s very important to have a standard of dress, and dress-code clothing is not expensive,” Quintana said.

“So, if you’re going to think about changing it, don’t do it because one parent said, ‘I like this or don’t like that.’ Give every parent a voice,” Quintana said.

Montaño said it’s one of those issues that always come up and should be looked at from time to time. He said a lot of times adults jump to conclusions based on the way kids are dressed.

“We need to be more open while we are dealing with this,” Montaño said.

• • •

Superintendent Romero said that of all the districts he’s worked at over 23 years, only the City Schools has had a dress code.

“I don’t support the dress code. When people talk about schools all over the state that have strict dress code policies, well they’re not all over the state. Rio Rancho is the only school that I know of that has a dress code. I can’t think of any schools in APS that require dress codes. There is not a dress code in any of the Las Cruces schools. It is not the standard; it is the exception,” Romero said.

Romero said what concerns him is children’s ability to express themselves is being stifled. He said decision-making is a significant part of growing up.

“When our kids enter high school, they often don’t know how to handle it. They have been so structured, so contained that their freedom of expression has just been squeezed out of them,” Romero said. “We’ve got to do a better job of transitioning these kids. So I just want to go on the record saying I don’t support the dress code.”