Taft LSC will explore changes to student dress code


Does the uniform requirement in the dress code at Taft High School send the wrong message about the school and act as a deterrent to eighth graders who are deciding to enroll there?

That question took center stage at the July 1 meeting of the Taft High School Local School Council. The meeting marked the first council meeting for new Taft principal Mark Grishaber.

"I know at least in Edgebrook they perceive the school as having some problem because everyone has to dress the same," said parent LSC member Anita Bernacchi. "It may seem silly to some people, but it is a huge deal to these kids."

Grishaber said that one of the most common complaints he has heard about Taft’s uniform requirement is that it is "a throwback to the 90s when we had gangs." He said that except for a "couple of gang wannabes," the school does not have a gang problem.

Bernacchi said that selecting enrollment schools such as Lane Tech and Northside Prep do not have a uniform requirement, while several nearby general enrollment schools have uniform policies that reference gang-related concerns.Taft students are required to wear dark pants, including jeans, and a plain, white-collared shirt, with some exceptions for Taft logo clothing.

The council appointed Bernacchi as chairwoman of a new Dress Code and Uniform Policy Committee, and there was a consensus among council members that any changes should go in effect for the spring semester next school year.

Community LSC member Nick Savich expressed concern that changing the dress code in the middle of the school year could be place a financial hardship on those families who base their clothing purchases on the current code. LSC chairwoman Lisa Schwieger said that if the code were to change, jeans, white shirts and Taft clothing would still be allowed and that jeans are a staple among teenagers.

Grishaber said that he wants the process for reviewing the code to be "a teachable moment" and that he plans to hold a community forum in which  students will be asked to articulate their arguments for getting rid of the uniform requirement. "You must still have some sort of dress code at least, or they’re going to dress like they’re going to a beach," he said.

Grishaber said that "right now I’m 50/50" on changing the code, but students usually will rise to the occasion anytime they are given more responsibility. He said that as students take on that responsibility, problems such as smoking at Taft should decrease.

One possibility would be to lift the uniform requirement one or two days a week on a trial basis, Grishaber said. The school has lifted the some of the dress code requirements as part of charitable fundraisers at the school.

Former acting principal Carolyn Rownd told the LSC last spring that the faculty opposed changes to the dress code.

It also was reported at the meeting that the Taft High School Foundation, which raises funds for improvements at the school, will receive 30 percent of the proceeds from the "Grease Lightning" carnival which will be held Aug. 21-24 at Norwood Park, 5801 N. Natoma Ave. The carnival also will benefit the Norwood Park Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Norwood Park Advisory Council.

The carnival will not be held on school grounds, but Taft can choose to raise additional funds by charging a fee for those who park in the school lots during the carnival, said chamber executive director Bea McDonough. Not all of Taft’s parking lots will be available due to a $17 million construction project that includes new windows and lockers and tuckpointing improvements.

It also was announced that the Taft foundation is selling tickets for a dinner and dance on Saturday, Sept. 27, celebrating the 75th anniversary of Taft High School. The event will be held at the Ridgemoor Country Club at 6601 W. Gunnison St., Harwood Heights, and tickets are $58 in advance, or $400 for a table of eight, and can be ordered at www.tafthsfoundation.org.

Foundation founder Richard Winge said that some class reunions are being held in conjunction with the anniversary dinner.

The July 1 meeting marked the end of the first official work day for Grishaber at Taft, although his preparations for the fall semester began last month. "I have been here two weeks, and it’s been tremendous,’ he said.

At the suggestion of Grishaber, the council created a new Technology Committee, which is being chaired by Wilson. Grishaber said that he would like the committee to create a 5-year plan for improving the school’s computer and other technology resources.

It also was reported that the school has hired a fourth assistant principal, Brian Tennison, who will focus on the school’s curriculum, and that Jerry Egler has replaced Paul Muffler as commander of Taft’s U.S. Naval Junior ROTC Program. Muffler retired last month.

In addition, Taft administrators are looking into allowing any student to use the new student entrance on West Hurlbut Street. Previously that entrance was reserved for special needs and academic center students, while all other students used the entrance on West Bryn Mawr Avenue.

Until 15 years ago, the main student entrance was located on Hurlbut but was switched to Bryn Mawr due to traffic congestion on Hurlbut and concerns about disruptive student behavior by on the area’s side streets.

The council set its meeting dates for the 2014-15 school year for the following Tuesdays: Sept. 9, Oct. 14, Nov. 18, Dec. 9, Feb. 10, March 10, April 14, May 12 and June 9. Meetings will start at 6 p.m.

Also at the meeting, the council appointed Schwieger as chairwoman, Joe McFeely as vice chairman, Leslie Plewa as secretary and Bernacchi as the council’s freedom of information officer. Other council members are parents George Wilson, Lisa Collyer and Sherry Riojas-Drury, faculty member Sam Duarte, staff member Mary Kay Cobb, community members Savich and Goran Davidovac, and student representative Matthew Mach.

A student from the Taft Seventh and Eighth Academic Center also will be appointed to the council as an advisory member.