11/12/2012 11:08 am ET Updated Jan 12, 2013

High School In The Community, New Haven Turnaround School, Votes In Election To Overturn Dress Code, District Rejects

This piece comes to us courtesy of New Haven Independent.

New Haven's superintendent of schools put his foot down on experimentation in New Haven "turnaround" schools--and forbade High School in the Community from allowing hats in hallways after all.

In a schoolwide election Monday, teachers and students at HSC voted overwhelmingly to lift a ban preventing kids from wearing hats and hoods in the hallways. Students made a case for the policy change in a formal debate that cited Constitutional case law. HSC Building Leader (aka "principal") Erik Good said he supported ending the ban and would abide by the election results--if the "powers that be" allowed.

Mayor John DeStefano called the vote a test case of how much autonomy the school district is willing to give a "turnaround" school as part of New Haven's ambitious school-reform drive. Though HSC remains a public school in the city school district, it is now managed directly by the local teachers union, not by the school district's central Meadow Street office, as part of a "turnaround" experiment aimed at overhauling a failing school.

The answer to the test came back Wednesday, following a meeting among Good, Superintendent Mayo, and teachers union President Dave Cicarella.

After the meeting, "everyone agreed that HSC will continue to follow the district policy of prohibiting hats in school," reported Mayo's spokeswoman, Abbe Smith.

Smith said the superintendent is open to further discussion about finding a "middle ground."

Reached Friday, Mayo wasn't open to further discussion in response to a request from the Independent to elaborate on his decision. "I don't have any comments at this time," he said.

Good said the school plans to come up with a modified proposal and get back to Mayo and Cicarella on how it would work. He said he never expected to be able to change the hat policy wholesale.

"Rules don't change just because a group gets together and votes to change them," Good said. "There are other players involved."

"I didn't expect that just because we had a vote, we get to do whatever we want," he said. The vote was meant to be a "learning experience," and to start a conversation.

He said it is "nice to know Dr. Mayo and Dave Cicarella are willing to have that conversation" about finding a middle ground. Though the school has some autonomy as a turnaround, Good said, "They are in charge of us."

"Middle ground" options include letting kids wearing hats on certain days, or letting kids earn the right to wear a hat based as a reward for good behavior, following a Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports method, Good said.

The New Haven school district's student handbook bans kids from wearing hats and hoods in school except for medical and religious purposes. HSC officially bans hats in the hallways and common areas but allows each teacher the discretion on whether to allow them in class.

Out in the hallway Thursday, senior Trevor Smith disagreed with the suggestion that hat-wearing should become a reward.

"I don't think we should have to earn our right to wear what we wear," he said. "As long as we're getting our education, I still believe we should be able to wear hats and hoods."

Good said the school would raise the topic with parents and with the student council.

Union President Cicarella, who was present at the Great Hat Debate, said debate teacher Eftyhia Theodoropoulos did a "wonderful job prepping the kids." He called the debate "super."

The debate and vote were "a terrific learning lesson for the kids," Cicarella said, "but we have a school policy."

He agreed with the mayor that as part of school reform, "you have to give schools on the ground some autonomy." He said that applies to more serious topics, but perhaps not to hats. Wearing hats "is not a huge deal for us. In the scheme of things, it's not a major issue."

Freshman Josh Nadal, who cast a ballot in favor of hats Monday, said he was disappointed to hear the policy wouldn't change, at least not right away. Like several students in the hallway Thursday, he was wearing a hat--evidence that, as Good has conceded, the policy is "unevenly enforced" in the school.

Ashley Hernandez chose to abide by the policy but said, "I just want to wear hats so bad." Hats are a great way to cover up a bad hair day, she reasoned.

Teacher Jack Stacey, who oversaw the election, said the decision will fit nicely with a lesson he just discussed with his students. His elections class was just talking about how federal government supersedes state government.

The hat vote, he said, is an example of how "downtown government supersedes what the school says." Because the hat policy students wanted "didn't match what downtown wanted, that's not going to work."

Stacey said while some kids "might be a little bit upset," he thinks most will be OK. "If we explain why downtown is opposed to it, and we tell them that we can't just do what we want, I think our students will understand."

Trevor Smith said he "didn't think the vote would change" the policy in the first place. "A bunch of students can't change the rules. That's just the way you're going to have it."

"Rules are rules," agreed Angel Guzman, who was entering HSC wearing a Vancouver Grizzlies baseball cap Thursday. "If I have to take my hat off, I don't really have a problem with it."

New Haven Debate Over Hats In Schools

Previous Independent stories on High School in the Community:

Students Invoke Free Speech In Great Hat Debate

Students Invoke Free Speech In Great Hat Debate

Guv: End Social Promotion

History Class Hits The Streets

• "Misfit Josh" & Alex Get A 2nd Chance

Guess Who's Assigning The Homework Now

On Day 1, HSC Students Enter A New World

Frank Reports Detail Experiment's Ups & Downs

School Ditches Factory "Assembly Line"

State "Invites" HSC To Commissioner's Network

Teachers Union Will Run New "Turnaround"