Seniors Shaelyn Hanscom of Norway, left, and Marissa Paine of Paris, center, and junior Tiana James, also of Paris, present a request to the SAD 17 board of directors Monday night in Paris to change the dress code policy. Nicole Carter/Advertiser Democrat

PARIS — The SAD 17 board of directors has approved the first reading of a change to the dress code policy to allow students to wear hats, scarves and bandannas in school buildings.

The vote at Monday night’s meeting was 19-3.

Oxford Hills Compreshensive High School junior Tiana James of Paris and seniors Shaelyn Hanscom of Norway and Marissa Paine, also of Paris, made the case for changing the policy, which has an exemption for religious reasons.

They said students prefer to wear hats if they haven’t been able to wash their hair, or have embarrassing health conditions like psoriasis they want to keep covered. Hats, they said, can make students feel more comfortable.

The three pointed out that during special events like Spirit Week there is no evidence that students wearing hats is a distraction.

Paine pointed out visitors are allowed to wear hats.

“When guests enter the school, for example a basketball game in the gym, many don’t they take their hats off,” she said. “And no one asks them to remove them. If guests don’t have to why do students?”

James surveyed 95 faculty and 435 students and found less than 20% of faculty and only 6% of students were opposed to changing the policy.

“The majority of those I surveyed said they felt changing the dress code to allow students to wear hats would be a positive change,” James told the board.

The students said hats would not be allowed during the Pledge of Allegiance, the national anthem and when there are guest speakers.

Hoodies would not be included in the policy due to security concerns about hiding faces. They confirmed it with the school resource officer and the board’s Policy Committee.

High School Principal Ted Moccia and Oxford Hills Middle School Principal Brian Desilets spoke in favor of amending the policy. Moccia pointed out that building relationships with students is critical to his job, but his first interaction every morning as he greets students is to remove their hats – a negative one.

“I prefer students not wear hats in my classroom, but that would be my choice for my classroom,” he said.

“One student I have to speak to every day,” Moccia said. “But it’s part of who he is and he struggles with taking it off. I struggle with asking him. I know why he’s wearing it and it’s not to disrespect me. He feels insecure with who he is and helps him feel a little more centered. It’s tough to force him.”

Desilets said, “We had a situation with one kid constantly wearing his hood. But when we got down to the reason, he couldn’t wash his hair and it was greasy. Wearing a hat would make this student feel safer in school. This is a dynamic relevant to today, as opposed to when these policies were made.”

In addition to the principals, Policy Committee members unanimously supported the change.

A few directors had differing thoughts.

Scott Buffington of Paris acknowledged Paine, James and Hanscom made points he had not previously considered and maybe there are areas in schools where wearing hats could be allowed. But he felt setting examples for good manners should be maintained. He also expressed concern that the policy did not specifically state that teachers could individually disallow them in their classrooms.

“I don’t see where a teacher gets to make rules,” Buffington said. “I did ask some teachers about this, maybe six. Some said, no hats. Some don’t care, but some said they weren’t comfortable speaking up about it.

“And this is a districtwide policy,” Buffington said. “You could have kindergartners, first-, second-graders coming and being distracted with the hat on their head. It needs more work before I can vote in favor.”

“I never thought I’d say this,” Director Stacia Cordwell of Oxford said. “But what if a hat will bring a student some kind of comfort to go to school because they don’t have the good pair of sneakers or jeans? I was that student, maybe I would have done better wearing a hat. You girls have done an amazing job and you’ve convinced me to approve.”

“There is a difference between this policy and the principal’s procedure,” Director Natalie Andrews of West Paris said. “It’s not the board’s responsibility to teach social etiquette, that’s the parents’ job.

“I want to remind everyone too, about the very next thing we’re looking at – student protests and walkouts,” she said. “We’ve put a lot of effort and discussion into this. What we’ve said to students is there is a better path for their voice to be heard and affect change in their school. Take communication through proper channels to the board. This is exactly what we told them and exactly what they’re doing. This is their voice and I think we need to respect it.”

“When was the last time you saw a women riding sidesaddle?” Cordwell quipped. “Styles change.”

If the board approves the second reading, the policy will be changed.

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