School dress code and its existing written policy came under scrutiny from the Onteora Central School District Board of Education at its May 2 Board of Education meeting and Public Hearing in the Middle/High School. Trustee Laurie Osmond requested the discussion, contending the policy contributes to body shaming of girls. “You will note our policy has not been revised or looked at since 2009 — its last adoption,” said Osmond, “and I brought this up because I have heard anecdotally from female students that sometimes they feel they get the message that the boys education is more important than theirs, because they’re told they are being a distraction to boys.” Osmond said that in the Middle/High school handbook, descriptions of female clothing were mentioned more than male clothing. She offered a gender-neutral way to address it that would includes consideration of LGBTQ students.
Other board members also chimed in with thoughts of girls feeling embarrassed when their spaghetti strap tops get measured in front of other students, or how shorts for girls are generally measured as too short, but OK for boys. Trustee Lindsay Shands, noting the policy segment regarding the length of shorts, said it was impossible to find any long enough to not be in violation of the policy. “For example,” she said, “I know that there are some girls who wear athletic shorts, and a parent was recently called to bring clothes for their child because the shorts were too short — they were running shorts…you know, it’s a problem.” She also pointed out segments of the policy that were too vague. “There is one section in the policy that has footwear that is deemed hazardous by the administration. Can you explain that?”
Student Representative Gabrielle Raphael weighed in. “I think that it is more of a concern amongst the female population, and I think there are other issues besides the length of the shorts, or the way a t-shirt fits or other things that need to be part of our dress code…And I think there are parts that are too vague and ways in the dress code that are unrealistic.”
School Board President Kevin Salem said, “What I hear and what I think we need to do, is look at this in policy [discussions] and we’ll do our research.” Salem said a new policy would allow, “the maximum amount of freedom of speech and expression, and for discouraging sexualization of girls especially — but for everybody.” Trustee Valerie Storey said, “Let’s give the students buy-in because let’s face it, we are discussing about them. Let’s get them, because if we want the students to follow the rules they need to be part of a process, so as we are reviewing this. Let’s get the buy-in.” Salem agreed that as an important part of the process.
Only one member of the public appeared for the district’s official budget Public Hearing, but no one spoke to its contents, as assistant superintendent for business Victoria McLaren presented the 2017/18-district budget one last time before the May 16 school election. The current 2017 budget of $53,222,778 will have an increase in spending of two-percent, or $1,073,337 to $54,296,155. Employee health insurance make-up the largest chunk of this increase or $957,904.
The State’s allowable tax levy increase for the district is a little over two-percent, though less for others, due to Onteora’s past fiscal prudence. However without eliminating programs, school officials were able to maintain the tax levy increase at 1.80 percent. A fund balance of $3,385,000 would also be added to the coffers. Small capital projects include $450,000 for the design and construction of a new High School science lab and a minor radon remediation at Phoenicia Elementary School of $235,000. If the budget were defeated once and the board chose to institute a contingency spending plan, these two projects would be eliminated, in addition to other equipment purchases, summer school, and field trips. If it were defeated twice, the contingency plan would become mandatory.
In other business:
- Onteora High School once again made it to the US News and World Report highest school-ranking list, earning a silver medal. In New York State, Onteora ranked 172 and nationally it ranked 2196. According to US News and World Report website, nationally 20,487 public schools were reviewed. Onteora is noted for a 92 percent graduation rate, 33 percent Advanced Placement rate, 92 percent mathematics proficiency, and 25.9-college readiness. The website also notes the district as having 40 percent of the student body as economically disadvantaged and 16 percent minority.
- Board trustees gave kudos to the Eat Meet and Greet fundraiser held at the High School. Shands said it raised over $6000 with proceeds going to Belleyre Bash. Superintendent Bruce Watson additionally gave out kudos to all involved in the High School play, Les Misérables. It had three, full audience shows including many students who came out to experience it.
- Grade eight student Natalie Horberg won honorable mention at a State contest titled, “Letters About Literature,” open to grades four through twelve. Students who participated chose a book to read and wrote a letter to the author explaining why and how the book impacted them. Middle School Teacher Denise Maltese said, “Tens of thousands of letters are submitted each year, and are judged on the state and national level.” Horberg read her letter on the book, No Impact Man: The Adventures of a Guilty Liberal who attempts to save the planet, and the discoveries he makes about himself and our way of life in the process, by Colin Beavan.