Steel Valley ponders stricter dress code

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The Steel Valley school board will hold a meeting Monday night to hear from parents and others on whether the district should adopt a more uniform dress code for students.

The meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. in the high school conference room but will be moved to the auditorium if more space is needed, school Director Thomas Olson said.

He said the board will consider adopting a dress code similar to the one in use in the McKeesport Area School District.

In that district, middle and high school students must wear pants or shorts, waist high, in navy blue, khaki or black. They are required to wear collared shirts, with no more than the top two buttons unbuttoned, in solid colors, stripes or plaid. Students can wear a variety of sweaters with the shirts. No clothing can be torn, revealing or too tight.

The district is looking for ways to improve scholastic performance, and Mr. Olson said board members have read studies that show overall grades rise when students wear uniforms or a uniform clothing style.

He and school Director Mike Terrick said having students dress more uniformly could eliminate intimidation for those students who can’t afford designer clothes.

Some parents send their children to Propel Schools so they can wear uniforms because they believe that helps their children to be less distracted and better able to concentrate on their studies, he said. The school board will need input from parents and the community before making any decision, he said.

At the board's meeting last Thursday, members voted to exit an interest-swap arrangement with Bank of America and Duetsche Bank.

The district has about $10.5 million in bond debt, superintendent Ed Wehrer said after the meeting. Mr. Wehrer said the interest rate swap involved risk. Through the swap arrangement, the district either received money or had to pay out money, depending on the interest rate.

Randy Frederick, a financial analyst with Piper Jaffray Cos., told the board before the vote that the district received $500,000 from the arrangement during the nine years it was in the rate swap.

School officials estimated it would cost the district $149,000 to $200,000 to get out of the interest rate swap, leaving the it with a net gain of $351,000 to $300,000.

In other action, school directors voted 6-3 to table action on a basketball team field trip to Florida, where the team would play in the KSA Basketball Tournament at Disney World in Orlando.

Mr. Terrick said the teachers going to Florida asked to be paid their full salaries for the days of the trip — an amount that would cost the district $5,400 — rather than receiving only their coaching stipends.

Steel Valley athletic director Shawn McCallister, who is scheduled to go on the trip, said if the teachers who are going aren’t paid their regular salaries, “I’m assuming they’re not responsible for those children 24 hours a day.”

At the committee meeting Monday night, school Director Mary Yuhas said the board is willing to have two teachers go on the field trip.

Mr. McCallister said he needs four people to serve as chaperones because of the number of students on the trip.

School Director Beth Cannon and some parents in the audience said they had served as volunteer chaperones on other Steel Valley trips.

Mr. McCallister said if a student was hurt on a trip, the teacher in attendance, not the parents involved, could be held legally responsible for the injury.

School directors asked Mr. Wehrer to ask solicitor Donald Fetzko if the district could be held liable for having only two teachers on the trip and whether parents and other volunteer chaperones could be considered legally responsible.

Mr. McCallister noted after one meeting that the teachers who planned to go to Florida offered to pay for the cost of substitute teachers during the days they were gone. He also said that since the teachers on the trip would be on duty 24 hours per day for five days, it would be the equivalent of 15 eight-hour days for them.

Anne Cloonan, freelance writer:

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