The Bay-Waveland School District Board of Trustees on Monday heard from the Wiecek family about the district’s new dress code policy.
During public comments where speakers are allowed three minutes, Scott Wiecek said he is a parent of three children who attend the BWSD.
“My wife and I think the teachers are excellent, the facilities are top-notch, and really the staff from the front office to the lunchroom have just been friendly and really the best,” he said. “We really appreciate that and it seems like they go the extra mile. But it seems like there has been a problem with the school board, especially to somebody like me, who hasn’t really attended these meetings before, but kind of keep our eye on the newspapers and it seems there has been a lot of strange press coverage, starting maybe with the mysterious resignation in 2018.”
Scott Wiecek also said that there was a “lack of diversity on the school board,” and that “especially in a district that’s a 'C' rated district, it probably would benefit from a school board that reflects the community.”
Scott Wiecek said that, in reference to the uniform policy, “possibly the uniform change, and I’m speculating here, but it seems like it would be directly a reflection of having all this law enforcement-type influence on the school board, which has resulted now in uniforms that seem like they’re similar to a correctional institution, which can be very oppressive feeling to children.”
Wiecek also said there was a “downgrade in the food quality, which could also seem like it reflects a correctional institution.”
He said that could by why parents and teachers “complain about the lack of focus during the school day.”
“Especially when you start off with a breakfast of powdered sugar doughnuts and expect a kid to maintain that energy level throughout the school day,” he said. “And those fruit smoothies, which contain upwards to 100 grams of sugar.”
At the end of his allotted three-minutes, Wiecek mentioned the “nepotism thing.”
Schyler Wiecek, whose name appeared on Monday’s agenda, spoke next and had 15 minutes to speak to the board. Speakers who are listed on the agenda have a 15 minute time limit.
Schyler Wiecek said that one way she does not believe parents in the district are being “heard or respected is with the implementation of this new, even more strict dress code.”
Wiecek said she met with BWSD Superintendent Dr. Sandra Reed a few weeks ago and asked, “why take something that isn’t broke and create hardships for families when there really is no need.”
“The answer I did receive was perplexing,” Schyler Wiecek said. “Her answer was ‘that it wasn’t fine.'''
Wiecek said she asked, “what wasn’t fine.”
“Her response was this, ‘I’m sure you’re aware that we’re a 'C' district, the only 'C' district on the Coast and we are making every effort to change that and to bring the level of education that we offer kids up, and I believe that starts with self-respect and just a more, I hate to use the word, appropriate school presentation,’’’ Schyler Wiecek said.
Schyler Wiecek said she asked if Reed thought that changing what the students wore would affect test scores and learning?
“And she responded with, ‘I don’t know about their test scores, but their learning, yes,’’’ Schyler Wiecek said.
Schyler Wiecek said she was “astonished” by Reed’s statement and asked again, “so changing the colors of Navy blue to Royal blue is going to have an effect on their learning?”
“And she responded with, ‘well, I don’t know if the color will as much, but I think that the consistency, the uniformity, the most formalized approach, and we are going to do this with the staff as well, I think from the top down, it will be helpful,” Schyler Wiecek said. “I responded with, ‘if the color doesn’t matter, then why are we doing it? But I never really got an answer for that.”
Schyler Wiecek said she and other parents felt “scammed” by the district.
She said that many parents had purchased school-approved t-shirts and sweatshirts, “under the impression that they would be able to wear them the following school year, because they were considered school-approved and allowed under our dress code.”
“I informed her that the prices of those shirts were $10-12 each and sweatshirts were $20 to $25 each,” Schyler Wiecek said. “And many parents, including myself, bought more than one item for each of our school children, which quickly adds up, but since they could wear them again, or at least that’s what we were under the impression of, we bit the bullet, shelled out the money so that our kids could have something non-uniform to wear that was more comfortable and not as hot as the polo shirts.”
She said that she was receiving orders for shirts up until two weeks prior to the end of the school year, “when the board already knew they would be changing the dress code and were not first notifying the parents that their children would be able to wear these shirts next year.”
Schyler Wiecek said she asked Reed if the district had decided on the uniform change two weeks prior to the end of the school year. She added that the PTO informed her that the students would be allowed to wear the clothes during the next school year.
“Mrs. Reed replied, ‘we were in the process of revamping the uniform policy,’’’ Schyler Wiecek said. “I told her that I didn’t agree with that, that I don’t think they should have been allowed to do that. She said, ‘I don’t know if they should have been allowed to send them home, perhaps a note that said there’s a possible change in dress code could have been helpful.’’’
Schyler Wiecek said that would have been “the better option.”
“We have lots of parents that bring home sometimes less than $200 per week and $20 on a shirt can make or break someone’s rent payment or utility bill,” Schyler Wiecek said. “She replied that ‘school isn’t the only place they can wear those shirts.’’’
Schyler Wiecek addressed the jacket policy. She stated that as it’s written on the BWSD’s Facebook post about the uniforms, it says “that you cannot wear,” and there’s nowhere that says “you can wear a regular-colored jacket to school.”
Deputy Superintendent Monty Noblitt said Monday that students could wear regular jackets to and from school, but not on the school campus.
Noblitt added that students could wear a dress code compliant sweatshirt under their jackets.
Schyler Wiecek said that the Pass Christian and Long Beach school districts do not implement uniform policies.
“And yet, they consistently continue to perform better than us every year,” she said. “Pass Christian was an 'A' rated district last year and has been in the top five in the state for the past five years. Long Beach schools have the highest passing percentage of third-graders for our state reading test on the whole Mississippi coast. Yet, the children can wear regular, every day clothing and, shockingly, it seems to not affect their learning at all.”
She added that she polled parents in those districts about the free-dress policy. She said that parents said that they have had “no issues and they have a zero-tolerance bullying policy.” She said that one former teacher in the Pass Christian School District said that it was “easier” to deal with “free dress” than when they taught in schools with a uniform policy.
Schyler Wiecek said that she has also searched for scientific articles that would show a “direct scientific correlation between uniforms and grades or test scores.”
“And I was unable, after reading about 35 of them and hundreds of pages of literature, to find any with concrete evidence that uniforms in fact create better learners and better grades,” she said. “There was however, evidence showing that uniforms can help with behavior problems and attendance. But BWSD doesn’t have a problem with attendance, we have an academic issue. To me, after meeting with Ms. Reed personally, I believe there is a true lack of understanding and empathy towards the families and children in our community and the problems that they face every day.”
She said that Reed told her that there are ways to help low-income families with obtaining uniforms.
“She told me that the parents would need to come into the school and speak to a school counselor about their financial need so that the school could provide them with the uniform help using government grants,” Schyler Wiecek said. “I was truly saddened by this. As a court-appointed special advocate for children in Hancock County, I can tell you that there are many parents that are truly in need of assistance that don’t receive it because of their pride and the level of embarrassment and feelings of ostracization that are felt when, as an adult parent, you are forced to come into the school to confess your lack of financial stability to another adult in a position of power. I reminded Ms. Reed that this is not St. Stanislaus, this is a public school. And I asked her, ‘do you understand that sometimes parents that live in low-income neighborhoods might not feel comfortable enough to come to y’all and say that they need help because they feel they may be judged?”’
Schyler Wiecek said that Reed told her that, “I think we have a good enough relationship with our families that they don’t feel like that, for the most part.”
“Again, I was shocked that the superintendent of a school district would make such a generalized blanket statement about the relationship between her and the families in the community,” Schyler Wiecek said.
As CASA volunteer, she said, she is “personally involved” with many of the community’s “struggling” families.
“I can tell you here right now, that many of them do not know Ms. Reed and have never spoken to her at all and they feel a lack of representation on our school board,” Schyler Wiecek said. “It seems as though BWSD is so focused on having an exceptional and almost militaristic outward appearance that they are forgetting the whole point of education, that is to learn and be prepared for the next stage of their lives. This is a public school, not a jail. Yet the strict uniform policy and random drug testing policy would make you think otherwise.”
During board comments, Trustee Mike Bell thanked the Wieceks and said that he "shared" their "sentiments."
Trustee Casey Favre also commented on the Wieceks' statements.
He first addressed the "law enforcement influence," and "the food quality, which could also seem like it reflects a correctional institution.”
"I don't think it's my job, as a school board member, to dictate what food we serve in our school cafeterias," Favre said. "I have had no contact with anybody on the administrative staff regarding any of those policies. It is none of my business."
Favre also said that he felt it important to address the "nepotism."
"So nepotism is when one family member construes a financial benefit to another family member," Favre said.
Schyler Wiecek said that it's "a consolidation of power."
"To create an influence where you have a lot of like-minded people, it's actually worth more than the salary that you probably won't miss," Scott Wiecek said.
Schyler Wiecek added that, "when you make a direct change on the school board because of a consolidation of power, that's nepotism."
Scott Wiecek added that the opinion of the community is that it is a direct violation of Mississippi codes.
Board attorney Ronnie Artigues said that he would "disagree."
In addition to himself, Artigues said that Bay St. Louis attorney Heather Smith, the Ethics Commission, and the Attorney General found no violation.
"As far as it being a conflict of interest, there isn't any," Artigues said.
With regards to the dress code policy, Favre said, the district conducted a survey several years ago.
"And 92 percent of our staff members said that uniforms were a problem," Favre said. "Enforcing the dress code took away from their instruction time."
The Wieceks said that they "totally agree."
"I'm going to say that it is an issue," Favre said. "It is a problem in our schools. We set out from the very beginning, saying if we're going to have a uniform policy, it needs to be a uniform uniform policy. If we're not going to have a uniform policy then we're all for it."
Scott Wiecek asked, "didn't you just say you didn't have any say so at all?"
Favre said that administrators approved the dress code.
"No one on the administrative team was dead set that we were going to have a uniform policy," Favre said. "However, faced with polls from parents in Pass Christian and Long Beach don't really serve us well. What would serve us well, is that if you get 51 percent of the parents in the BWSD to sign a petition and say 'we don't uniforms."'
The Wieceks said that they "were starting one tomorrow."
Favre said the board would evaluate the results of such a petition. He added that a "Facebook poll" is not a petition.
Favre said he had three phone calls about the situation, and heard complaints that children would have to wear their uniform shirts on game days.
"We fixed that part of the problem," Favre said.
Later in the meeting, the board approved changes to the policy: Shorts and pants will include navy blue color; Bay High School students will be allowed to wear school-sponsored t-shirts every Friday; and Bay-Waveland Middle School and Bay High School students will be allowed to wear either the team uniform or the team shirt (approved by the principal) on game day of each activity.
"I think the district has done a phenomenal job in making concessions to come to a consensus that we have a uniform policy," Favre said.
Favre said that the district has "the opportunity to assist families in need."
Scott Wiecek said that "none of the parents are aware."
Favre said it's in the handbooks.
"Well you need to do a better job of letting the community know," Scott Wiecek said.
With regards to financial hardships, Favre said that, "if you don't feel inclined to come to the school district and ask for help, there are organizations like Hope Haven that provide help, Jacob's Well will provide help. Goodwill provides uniforms at discount prices."
Schyler Wiecek began to ask Favre if he had been uniform shopping at Goodwill.
"I let you speak and this is my opportunity to do so," Favre said.
Favre added that the BWSD uniform policy is "less strict" than Hancock High School's policy.
The next board meeting is scheduled for July 8 at 5:30 p.m.