2019-2020 budget approved; dress code discussed

The Tahoma School Board approved the 2019-2020 school year operating budget and moved closer to completion of a revised student dress code policy and procedure, during a special meeting Aug. 6.

The budget, approved on a 5-0 vote, will collect $127,062,371 in state, local, and federal funds; it spends $130,560,892 plus an additional $1,389,674 for loan payments and technology. The spending is $4,888,195 more than anticipated revenue and the difference will be paid from the fund-balance reserve. Budget details can be found at https://www.tahomasd.us/news/announcements/public_invited_to_comment_on_budget_proposal

Though the special meeting was originally called to allow the board to vote on the school budget, discussion of the student dress code was added so that board members and staff had additional time to discuss proposed changes. The revised policy and procedure will be reviewed again by the board at its Aug. 20 special meeting and could be ready for adoption at the Aug. 27 regular board meeting.

“We’re not in any rush to get this done,” Board President Didem Pierson explained prior to the discussion. “If we need to have more conversations, we will.” In a prior meeting and on Aug. 6, School Board members questioned parts of the revised policy and procedure and expressed their desire to ensure the final product is objective, gender neutral and equitable for all students.

Mark Koch, director of Human Resources, presented a review of the proposed policy and procedure changes, which are intended to revise the student dress code that has been in effect since 2007. The proposed changes were developed by a committee of school principals. A survey of district parents about the dress code was used by the principals in their work, along with a review of policies from other school districts and applicable state law.

The revised policy would apply to students at all grade levels and is intended to establish standards that allow for self-expression while preserving school order and safety. The policy places limits on clothing deemed to be a health or safety hazard, could damage school property, or that creates a “material or substantial disruption of the educational process.”

The proposed procedure, which lists specific applications of the policy, prohibits messages on clothing that are lewd, sexual in nature, drug related, tobacco related, or alcohol related. Gang apparel and hate messages also are prohibited.

Board members addressed another part of the proposed procedures, carried over from existing procedures, that would prohibit clothing that did not cover students’ torso, including shoulders and midriff. Board members and administrators received comments from parents and community members objecting to that part of the procedures. After lengthy discussion, the board drafted more specific language about areas of the body that must be covered by opaque clothing: genitals, buttocks, nipples, and the front and back midsection of the torso. The board decided to allow clothing that does not cover shoulder areas.