A tighter dress code for Sharon City School District students is getting closer to a written policy and vote by the school board.

Superintendent John Sarandrea on Thursday said a committee of almost 30 people made up of students, parents, community members, teachers, administrators and board members has been doing research since the beginning of the school year on the topic.

“It’s been a full year in the making,” he said.

Sarandrea said they’re not talking about instituting uniforms, but the “dress apparel policy” proposed for kindergarten through grade 12 is a step up from the dress codes most local schools, including Sharon, have now.

The policy will limit styles and colors and may include rules about belts or tucking in shirts, he said. It could ban popular apparel like hoodies or blue jeans, Sarandrea said.

The students’ involvement in developing the policy is very important, Sarandrea said, because it gives adults their perspective.

“Their input has been valuable,” he said.

There are many reasons the district is considering a more formal dress code, Sarandrea said, but the major theme school officials are trying to promote to students is that they need to “dress for success.”

“Everything we do as a public school system is to prepare our students to be successful in life later on. Every thing we do,” Sarandrea said. “Part of that success has to do with the image you present and your degree of professionalism.”

Right now, the way many kids dress for school makes it seem like a casual event, Sarandrea said.

“To me, it sends a message of ‘this really isn’t that important,’” he said. “My personal opinion is that education and its importance has become lax in this country.”

When you go to church or a place of business, you dress up because it’s important, Sarandrea said. Someday, the youth will be adults out in the working world.

“Why wait? If it’s so important to be reading at grade level … because it’s expected of you, why isn’t it important to dress for success?” he said. “If it’s going to be expected of you, let’s get you acclimated for that.”

Sarandrea said data shows that attendance, achievement and self-esteem go up when students are required to dress up a bit for school.

“Kids see (school) as valued and meaningful,” he said.

The policy development committee has visited two area schools, New Castle and Campbell, Ohio, with policies similar to what Sharon is considering, Sarandrea said. They will soon take a trip to Cleveland to get input on how the policy is working there, he said.

New Castle’s policy was in effect when Sarandrea was principal there.

“I think it works very well,” Sarandrea said. “They’re happy with it.”

The policy will be a living document that may be adjusted every year, Sarandrea said.

One myth out there is a more stringent dress code will be more expensive, Sarandrea said, but in actuality he thinks it will cost parents less than their child’s wardrobe does now.

Such concerns are legitimate, Sarandrea said, and “it’s up to us to allay those fears.”

Sarandrea said there will be a clothing bank and voucher system set up for those who need it.

Any change to a culture is going to be met with some resistance, Sarandrea said, and this dress code change is no different. Sarandrea said that officials are going to make sure that all questions are answered and everyone is well informed, though he said he expects a vocal minority will be against it initially.

The acceptance process Sarandrea said will go from “forming” the policy to “storming” from those who aren’t happy. But then it will lead to “norming” and, finally, “performing” from the students, he said.

In February, the committee’s recommendations will be put on paper and the school board will discuss it and determine if they’ll put it into place, Sarandrea said.

He said there will likely be a vote on it no later than March so that the district can start marketing the policy with things like fashion shows and to meet with retailers who will sell approved clothing.

The goal is to have the new policy in place by the 2009-2010 school year, Sarandrea said.

A staff policy was enacted for this school year and is “tremendous,” the superintendent said.

“I think it’s one of the best things we’ve done,” Sarandrea said. “Certainly the students have recognized the raising of the bar. We want to raise the bar in all areas.”

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