Waterloo parents who challenged the school district’s dress code won a victory from the State Board of Education today, but the final decision on the issue may come from the legislature. The board turned down the district’s appeal and voted unanimously to uphold an administrative law judge’s ruling that the Waterloo dress code did not meet state law because it told students what they had to wear, not what they couldn’t wear.
One of the parents who challenged the dress code,Teesha Peters, says this was a partial victory. Peters says this only dealt with one of the problems of the policy and they would have liked to see it get more involved in the content of the policy. She says their concern is that the school district should have had more parent involvement in deciding the policy.
Today’s vote will not have any impact as the Waterloo school board changed its policy soon after the judge made her ruling public, and students are still required to wear uniforms approved by the district. Peters’ husband Ricki says they are following the process and have challenged the changed rule.
Peters says they have joined about 40 other parents to file a second appeal against the rule change, but he says they have agreed along with the district to delay the second appeal to see if the legislature changes the law. He says they will be contacting their legislators about the issue and he encourages all parents to weigh in on the issue. “I don’t care how you feel about it, let the legislature know,” Peters says.
Peters says the district created at moving target by changing the rule and forcing another appeal. Until it’s decided they will be able to keep their mandate on the color and type of clothes students can wear — rules he says are too restrictive. He asked reporters why the district can tell students they can’t wear plaid shirt.
Peters pointed to his shirt and said he could not wear it as a student because it has gray on the collar and not blue. “Simply because it is blue with a gray collar, you can’t wear it, it is just crazy,” Peters said.
Waterloo school district attorney, Steve Weidner, argued that the district’s policy should have stood even though it didn’t follow the direct letter of the law. Weidner says, “The result and the intention was to prohibit certain things that interfered with the learning environment and safety, and as long as that was your goal, and that was what you got done….that shouldn’t sink the policy.”
Weidner says lawmakers are considering legislation that would change the current law. Weidner says the legislation would remove the current statute that talks about needing uniforms to prevent gangs and for the safety and the health of the students. He says it would take out any prohibition on rules about what the students could or couldn’t wear and would instead allow them to do whatever the district felt was needed to for the safety and health of the students. “And then however they got the job done, it would be okay,” Weidner said.
While the vote today did not solve the problem, it was needed for the parents to preserve their ability to exhaust all their attempts to administratively change the dress code before moving to the next step of a lawsuit.