Hamilton Southeastern school board OKs handbook changes for upcoming school year


Hamilton Southeastern Schools student handbooks for the fast-approaching 2023-24 school year were amended July 26 in a split vote of the HSE Board of Trustees. 

The board voted 5-2 in favor of changes to the handbooks, which were discussed during a work session in mid-July. Those changes include a dress code change for grades 5-12 that prohibits hats or hoods worn on the head unless a teacher gives permission for them to be worn in class. 

Another change adds clarifying language to the section regarding what is considered inappropriate attire. It states: “Clothing that is designed to reveal buttocks, torso (the body apart from the head, neck, arms, and legs), midsection of the body, undergarments, or the lack of undergarments” is not appropriate. The portion in parentheses was added through the July 26 vote. 

Three people spoke during public comment before the vote. Two opposed the motion because the handbook changes had not gone through the traditional review process that allows teachers, administrators, students and parents to provide feedback. One speaker supported making immediate changes, stating that provocative clothing is distracting in a learning environment. 

Members of the handbook committee were present, including HSE Chief Equity and Inclusion Officer Nataki Pettigrew. She said she talked with administrators who would be responsible for enforcing this rule, and they told her that for the past year — when hats and hoodies were allowed — there were no disruptions resulting from students wearing them. In fact, she said, allowing hats and hoodies eliminated a negative interaction with students. 

Pettigrew said teachers always had the option of asking students to remove hats or take down a hood if it seemed disruptive. She said it was important for the board to have that feedback before their vote. 

“I thought it was fair if we’re not going to honor the process that I at least honor the words of our staff and administrators,” she said. 

There was little board discussion prior to the vote. Board members Sarah Parks-Reese and Sarah Donsbach cast the two dissenting votes. Parks-Reese said she opposed the motion because the changes had not gone through the proper review process. Donsbach said she decided to vote no following conversations with HSE administrators. 

Among those who voted in favor of making immediate handbook changes was Tiffany Pascoe, who said she wanted the board to look into creating a student uniform policy after the Nov. 7 school funding referendum vote. 

Others who voted in favor of making immediate student handbook changes were board members Dawn Lang, Juanita Albright, Suzanne Thomas and Ben Orr. 

Besides changes to the dress code, the handbook revisions add back the option for parents to come to the schools to have lunch with their children and add clarifying language about inappropriate conduct and discipline. 

The next HSE Board of Trustees meeting is Aug. 9.