White Bear Lake Area Schools will soon have a new dress policy but it was already in the works before the upset over a kindergartner wearing spaghetti straps at Hugo Elementary. The student was forced to change into a T-shirt this spring.
The school board began discussing dress and appearance, policy 504, at a workshop in February, said Clerk Ellen Fahey. It was up for annual review and school board members had made a request to review it thoroughly for changes this year. The board discussed how the policy had language that seemed to be directed at girls. It discussed changes to make the policy more focused on items that would disrupt the educational process.
What the board was working on was highlighted when a kindergartner at Hugo Elementary was forced to change after wearing a dress with spaghetti straps in April. Each school has its own guidelines based on the policy. The girl's mother, Emily Stewart, was shocked her five-year-old daughter was being sexualized. Her daughter reported being embarrassed about the incident when she was told she had to change because she needed privacy.
“It's the perfect example of why we are already having this discussion,” Fahey said. She said the board received lots of letters about the policy in the ensuing weeks.
It held a first reading of the updated policy at its June 10 school board meeting. The school board annually reviews lots of policies and the typical process is to hold two readings to give the community time to give input before final approval is given. The board spends time discussing potential changes at workshop meetings before the readings.
Sophomore Lidya Erickson came to the June 10 meeting to share her thoughts on why she wanted changes to the policy. She said that telling girls to cover up in certain ways can contribute to over-sexualization of females, which leads to a victim-blaming rape culture. She suggested a more gender neutral policy would prevent people from objectifying girls and stereotyping boys, by assuming boys cannot control themselves.
Fahey let Erickson know that the “outdated student dress policy” had such proposed changes based on feedback and the board's own views. Board member Jessica Ellison commended Erickson for her bravery to speak to the board.
The dress policy changed its definition of inappropriate clothing from “Clothing that is too revealing, distracting, or disruptive to the educational process, and other clothing that is not in keeping with community standards” to “Clothing that is disruptive to the educational process.” The board also changed the policy to allow all types of head coverings if they do not conceal a students' identity. Previously, head coverings were not allowed without special permission from the principal for a medical or religious reason.
A second reading will be held at the July meeting.
In other action the school board:
• Held first readings on five other updated policies: Policy 413, Harassment and Violence; Policy 506, Student Discipline; Policy 525, Violence Prevention; Policy 611, Homeschooling; Policy 802, Disposition of Obsolete Equipment.
• Heard a report on Sauer Family Foundation grants that will provide trauma support programming at Willow Lane, Vadnais Heights, and Birch Lake Elementary Schools.
The grants total about $300,000. The program will be new at Birch Lake and Vadnais Heights this fall. The program helps children with toxic stress share their worries and reduce behavior issues, reported Executive Director Colleen O’Keefe. Early Childhood Special Education (ECSE) also received a $23,000 grant from the Sauer Foundation to implement a conscious discipline program.
• Heard a report on the district's Excellence in Financial Reporting award from the Association of School Business Officials (ASBO), and the GFOA’s Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting.
The district has received these awards 19 years in a row, reported Tim Wald, assistant superintendent for finance and operations.
• Approved the preliminary 2019-2020 school year budget.
General fund revenue is expected to be $117.7 million and expenditures $118.3 million. The ending fund balance is expected to be $15.8 million, or 10.5 percent of expenditures. The district is still expected to be out of compliance with its fund balance policy, which calls for 12.5 to 15 percent, Wald said.
• Approved $327,000 in property and casualty insurance for 2019-2020 through the Minnesota Insurance Scholastic Trust.
Due to natural disasters within the last couple years across the U.S., there was a 13 percent increase this year. School board member Scott Wilson mentioned that with insurance costs going up, the Legislature needs to increase the student state funding allocation per student by more than 2% next year.
• Approved $597,000 in workers compensation insurance for 2019-2020 with Dakota Truck Underwriters. There will be a 4% increase due to increases in payroll.
• Approved its share amount of $13,000 for long-term facilities maintenance of District 916 buildings. All member districts pay a portion of the $145,000.
• Accepted nutrition services grants. The district received $4,500 for new milk coolers at Lakeaires Elementary, Matoska Elementary and North Campus from the Agricultural Growth, Research and Innovation Program (AGRI) Dairy Cooler Grant. It also received $3,500 for the summer meals program.