Should schoolteachers and other staff members wear business casual clothes or business comfortable clothes to work? That was the question before the North Platte public school board Monday.  

Director of Human Resources Kevin Mills proposed changing the existing dress and appearance policy. The top administrators — Supt. Todd Rhodes, Finance Director Stuart Simpson, and Mills — met with the teacher’s union several times through the year, and each time they met, the teachers’ group brought up the district’s dress code.

Mills said in 2019, a general movement began toward more comfortable attire for teachers, staff and administrators.

He said the younger teachers want to be more comfortable. Also, the long break during the pandemic played a part in the trend.

Mills said “business comfort” would mean blending work attire with after-work/weekend attire. On the simplest level, it would allow teachers and administrators to wear what they wear on weekends during the workweek, with the exception of pajama pants, ripped or torn jeans, flip flops or slides, beat-up shoes, or hoodies.

He said well-fitting jeans and ”athleisure” clothing would be allowed. 

Mills said some principals work hard to enforce the existing dress code while others do not. The lack of consistency is creating a morale problem among teachers. 

He said the top administrators think that teachers should have autonomy and can be trusted in determining what they wear.

The teachers’ union (North Platte Education Association) has said: “NPEA members have shared concerns regarding the dress code, including the policy on jeans. We feel this change in the dress code policy would help improve the overall staff morale due to the fact that the concerns of teachers have been heard and acted upon.”

Board members Matt Pederson and Skip Altig agreed with the policy. Pederson said the policy would require attire to be clean and professional, and if teachers are happy coming into the classroom, it will have a positive effect on the students.

Altig said he has seen a significant change in attire over the years and hasn’t seen it affect the quality of education.

Vice-president Emily Garrick said the proposal warrants a thorough discussion. She expressed concern that the change will lead to a lack of respect for teachers. What a teacher wears can and will affect the level of respect they receive, she said.  

Garrick said the cause of low morale was not that teachers couldn’t wear jeans, but that enforcement lacked consistency. Garrick said when she taught middle school, had she been wearing jeans, there would have been confusion about who was the teacher and who was the student. She said holding teachers to a standard of excellence is what students deserve.

Rhodes said teaching is the hardest it has ever been. Being flexible is essential and does not lessen the professionalism of teachers.

Board member Angela Blaesi has no problem with jeans but does have a problem with the word “comfortable” in the proposed policy. Blaesi said when her daughter wore sweatpants to school, lessened her respect for others and her schoolwork. Blaesi said using the word comfortable in the policy lowers the bar.

She is also concerned with lack of consistent enforcement among the schools.

Board member Cindy O’Conner said using the word comfortable opens it up to what the teacher thinks is comfortable.

Ultimately, the board decided to continue the conversation at the Committee of the Whole Meeting. 

Public hearings

Before the regular meeting, the board held two public hearings, one on parental involvement and another on bullying policies. No one from the public spoke at either hearing.

The state requires the hearings to be held at least once a year.

The parental involvement policy is twofold: it allows a parent access to the testing and curriculum and enables the parent to request non-participation for their child for any activity or lesson they see fit.

The bullying policy has two main ways to report suspected bullying. The first is through an online form, available online and in the administrator’s office at each school. The detailed form provides administrators with dates, times, and locations of when bullying has occurred.

The second way to report bullying is to call the anonymous school tip line through the North Platte police department. 

The board voted to reaffirm both policies. The board noted that the policy on parental involvement will need to be updated before the 2025-26 school year starts. 

School calendar

The board unanimously amended the 2024-25 school calendar, changing the date of next year’s graduation from Saturday, May 10 to Sunday, May 11 to avoid a conflict with district baseball finals on May 10.

Pederson asked if the change would inconvenience anyone for this year’s graduation. Altig said the change was discussed at the Committee of the Whole, and he hadn’t heard any concerns.

Blaesi said she had calls about when the board would finalize the date. Garrick said she saw several comments on Facebook, but no one reached out with their concerns. She encouraged people who have problems to reach out.

Garrick said the board is tasked with making decisions for the entire district, and if they don’t hear from the public, they can only make decisions based on what they know.

O’Connor said it comes down to not wanting anyone to miss graduation, and Blaesi agreed. 

Changes caused by new state laws

Also, the board unanimously adopted four new policies, added because of legislation enacted in the recent session of the state legislature.

These policies involve:

• Repeating grades at parent/guardian request: In grades K-4, requests will be considered if students are behind in academics, or absent 50% of the time or more, or were hospitalized for two or more weeks during the school year. In grades 4-12, parents can only ask the grade to be repeated if the student was absent 50% or more of the time.

• Pre-kindergarten program: The district will develop an educational program for children who are 3 years of age before July 31 of the enrollment year, and children who are 4 years of age before July 31 of the enrollment year. The capacity of the program is 144 students. If capacity is exceeded, the program will be scaled back proportionately.  

• Malcolm X Day education: Each year on or about May 19, designated as El-Hajj Malik ElShabazz, Malcolm X Day, the school district will hold suitable exercises in recognition of the sacrifices of the late civil rights leader and Nebraska Hall of Fame inductee and his contributions to the betterment of society.

• Projection maps: The school district will only use the Gall-Peters projection map or a similar cylindrical equal-area projection map or the AuthaGraph projection map for display or use in the classroom. Use of the Mercator projection map is generally prohibited because the distorted, enlarged sizes of landmasses distant from the equator. The map was created in the 1500s.

The board unanimously voted to table the approval of 21 policy revisions that are also necessitated by recent state legislation. Most of them appear to make relatively small changes in language. The board is expected to discuss them further at its committee of the whole/ work session on June 27.

Awards and recognition

In other business, the board recognized the teachers/staffers of the year. The public made the final selection from the previously named teacher/staffer of each month.  

  • Classified employee of the Year – Technology Systems Specialist Charles Hayes.
  • Secondary teacher of the Year – North Platte High Math Teacher and Coach Kyle Milton.
  • Elementary teacher of the Year – Jefferson Elementary Second Grade Teacher Jennifer Paul.
  • Administrator of the year – High School Principal Cory Spotanski.
  • Rookie of the Year – High School Automotive Teacher Johnny Zogg.

Also, Lungreen read a letter of appreciation from Nebraska Education Commissioner Brian Maher to Rhodes. Maher said Rhodes has been invaluable to him in his first 10 months as commissioner by serving on the state Superintendent Advisory Council. 

In other business, the board approved:

  • An amendment to the NPEA negotiated agreement for the 2024-25 school year. The amendment outlines extra duty pay of $15/hour up to 30 hours a week for coaches and sponsors. It also puts requirements on what defines a club: at least five students, meeting a minimum of 1.5 hours/ week, attendance logs, dues to the activity office, and a summary of activities. 
  • The minutes of the May 13 regular meeting of the board.
  • The minutes of the May 30 Committee of the Whole meeting.
  • Contracts with five new teachers for the 2024-25 school year.
  • The resignation of one teacher, effective May 24.
  • The monthly financial claims and reports.

For the complete agenda of the board meeting, with attachments, click Here.

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