LEWISTON — A proposal to amend the student dress code to allow hats and hoods to be worn in schools has the support of most members of the School Committee.

The issue was brought to the committee by Superintendent Jake Langlais on Monday as a first reading for a policy amendment. No action was taken, but members spoke mostly in favor of the change.

“There’s no reason in the world why students should not be able to wear what they want,” member Kiernan Majerus-Collins said. “This is not a dictatorship.”

Others agreed and praised the Lewiston Middle School students who lobbied Langlais for the change.

But member Ron Potvin questioned why the proposal was brought to the committee level and said he would not support it.

“We’re sitting here talking about hats and hoods,” Potvin said. “What reasonable purpose does wearing a hat or hood in school serve? It blows my mind that we are even having this discussion.”

Potvin noted that when he was growing up in Boston, hats and hoods were used to identify gang members. He urged the committee to focus on academic standards instead of “outside gear.”

Member Elgin Physic, who said he also grew up in Boston, responded by saying that “things change with the times.”

Hats and hoods no longer are used by gangs as identifiers, Physic said.

He said that when he was in high school, teachers would “get in your face,” grab your shirt front and treat you like you were in the Marine Corps. That kind of treatment is no longer acceptable, he said.

Professional dress has become more casual and Lewiston Public Schools should change with the times, Physic said.

Students were allowed to wear hats and hoods in schools over the past year because things were more casual during the pandemic and the policy was waived. With state and federal guidelines loosening on April 1, however, the policy was reactivated, but some middle school students decided to challenge that decision.

Teacher Allston Parkinson told the committee that these students surveyed their peers, did research and worked with Bates College students on crafting a proposal.

“It is a hot button [topic] for kids and for two semesters they wore hats and hoods with no problems,” Parkinson said.

He said 40 to 45 percent of students in his classes are people of color who “invariably wear a hat or hood.” He does not see it as disrespectful, he said. It helps them feel comfortable.

“Feeling comfortable in school is a prerequisite to learning,” teacher Michelle Bourgoin told the committee, quoting brain research.

She said styling hair can take a lot of time for students of color, and if they are rushed and their hair isn’t styled, wearing a hat or hood helps them feel more comfortable, not embarrassed.

Bourgoin also said students had reported bias.

“Teachers are asking students of color more than white kids to comply,” she said. “These things have been filmed and students are watching.”

Parkinson noted that results of the students’ survey, with about 45 percent responding, showed that 85 percent of those respondents felt more comfortable being in school if allowed to wear head coverings.

He said 90 percent wanted hats and hoods to be allowed at the middle school, and 100 percent said they would be responsible and respectful. In a memo to the School Committee, Langlais wrote that he supported the policy change.

“The bias attached to a hat or hood should have no place in a learning environment,” he said.

He called the policy, “an unnecessary power struggle for adults trying to do the right thing, and a sentiment that has clear bias in its roots.” Langlais added his perspective on hats and hoods has evolved over the years and he now realizes they are not a threat to schools.

“Why would we assume any student is a threat?” he said.

The committee’s policy subcommittee will craft language and bring the proposal back for a vote at a future meeting.

WARD 2 VACANCY

In other business Monday night, member Physic resigned from the committee to take a job as varsity basketball coach at Lewiston High School.

He said he wanted to advocate for a few things on his way out the door.

“I hope to see kids back in school, really making that happen,” he said. “I hope you get the special education program where it should be, and keep working on restorative justice and equity.”

He thanked educators for “navigating through tough times,” over the past 15 months of pandemic instruction. He thanked parents for their hard work in helping with remote education and gave a shout-out to students for trying to learn in an unconventional way.

Chairwoman Megan Parks thanked Physic for his work on the committee and for “getting out in the community and talking to people.”

The Lewiston City Council will appoint a replacement to be nominated by Mayor Mark Cayer.

The mayor is accepting applications from registered voters in Ward 2. Applications are available at the city clerk’s office and the city’s website. The deadline for applying is 4 p.m. Monday, June 14. Appointment by the council is set for June 15.

The term expires January 2022. Applicants must by at least 20 years old and residents of Ward 2.

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