Putting a lid on hoodies next year, Ascension schools among districts eying more security measures

Putting a lid on hoodies next year, Ascension schools among districts eying more security measures
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Come next fall when the weather has again turned to sweater and jacket season, many Ascension Parish public high school students better check their attire.

The school system has banned hoodies and other hooded clothing for all high-schoolers starting in the 2023-24 term.

First-year school board member Jake Lambert said the push grew out of security concerns from administrators.

The hoods can prevent students involved in incidents on campus from being identified by cameras and other school security devices, Lambert said.

“We have a lot of really good tools, and we can’t identify the students,” he said.

Previously a matter of the principal’s discretion, hoodies and other hooded clothes had already been banned on three of Ascension’s four high school campuses; only St. Amant High School had allowed them, school officials said.

The new tighter policy for next school year came under a series of recent changes to the system’s student handbook that affected other dress code matters and strengthened   administrators’ hand in student search rules.

The changes also come amid steps by other local public districts to address school security.

On Sunday, Northwestern Middle School in the Zachary Community School District banned students from bringing bookbags to school for the remaining three weeks of the year. A student was arrested last week and accused of threatening a shooting at the school.

In East Baton Rouge Parish, public school officials plan to roll out a new security plan later this month that would add school resource officers, fences, handheld metal detectors and more single-entry point campuses and would continue canine searches at schools.

The move comes after a large fight involving nearly 200 students and adults at the system’s alternative school, the EBR Readiness Superintendent’s Academy, in early March.

Ten juveniles and adult teens were arrested in connection with the melee. A loaded gun was also found in the grass in front of the school, authorities have said.

The West Baton Rouge Parish School Board is expected to consider a ban on only hooded sweatshirts — hoodies — for all grades next week after a key recommendation Tuesday, school officials said.

Chandler Smith, superintendent of West Baton Rouge schools, said school principals recommended the change and had security concerns similar to those in Ascension — that the hoods obstruct officials’ view of students.

“You really don’t know who the student is,” Smith said.

Among the other Ascension security changes, students who refuse to allow their bookbags, purses, vehicles or other personal property to be searched on campus could set themselves up for potential disciplinary infractions.

Under the policy, “the student’s refusal of the search shall be considered and deemed an admission that the search would reveal” the discovery of the item that the student is suspected of having. That presumption could set up the student for discipline.

Under the rules and preexisting law, school officials don’t need a warrant, as law enforcement would in other situations, but a reasonable suspicion that the student has a specific item, a school attorney said. Schools can’t make sweeping searches of entire groups of students or ones based on suspicions of a general nature.

Jeff Diez, attorney for the school board, said the policy change was developed to avoid confrontations that school administrators have been having with students over searches.

Diez asserted that public schools have a clear right under longstanding U.S. Supreme Court precedent to conduct individual searches of students when officials have a reasonable suspicion, but he said students have often refused, sometimes physically, in recent years.

“‘We’re not going to push the issue. You win. We’re not searching, but we’ve told you what we suspect we’re going to find, the material item. You’ve denied us the right that we have to search, so you’re going to be guilty of that item,'” Diez said what students would be told in that situation under the new rules. 

The presumption applies only in the school disciplinary context. Diez said he hopes that the policy will lower the pressure and encourage more compliance from students. 

“We’re trying to get kids not to be combative when it comes to searches,” Diez added.

During development of the policy last month, school board members had discussed changing the language describing the item to be searched to the more general term of “contraband.”

Members backed off that change after administrators reminded the board that under Diez’s advice for the policy, administrators must identify a specific item to conduct the search.

Diez asserted that school administrators have even broader authority to search students’ lockers, which are school property.

School officials in Ascension had also mulled a more sweeping ban on hoodies and other hooded garments, but the school board settled on allowing hooded clothes to remain at the principal’s discretion on pre-kindergarten through eighth-grade campuses.

Board member Lambert said some members were worried about younger students in cold weather.

“And, then, the flip side (of the hoodie limit) was, ‘Do you really want a little third-grader waiting to catch the bus in the rain (without a hood)?'” he said.

In West Baton Rouge, school officials are proposing to allow hooded jackets with buttons or zippers in the front, but students wouldn’t be able to wear the hoods once they are inside the school, the superintendent said.

In other Baton Rouge-area school districts, policies on hooded clothes vary.

East Baton Rouge Parish schools, the state’s second largest traditional public system, have no policy that restricts hooded clothing for students, said Letrece Griffin, system spokeswoman. 

School officials in Livingston didn’t return messages for comment Tuesday and Wednesday. The system has student handbooks for each school with some slight variations.

At the high school level, for instance, policies vary from not addressing hooded garments at all to specifically allowing them. Other schools, like Denham Springs High, allow them but bar students from wearing the hoods themselves. 

In mid-2009, Lafayette Parish school officials banned hoodies amid concerns that students were using the hoods to hide ear buds and listen to music. 

Parents and students objected at the time because the change had been made in August after many parents had bought school hoodies and days before the school year was to begin. The change was the recommendation of a school system committee of teachers, administrators and parents.  

The ban remains in place, according to online policies.

The Ascension changes, which were discussed over the previous two months in committee meetings and were formally adopted May 2, generated internal discussion among school officials but little public attention.

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About Mary Weyand 12339 Articles
Mary founded Scoop Tour with an aim to bring relevant and unaltered news to the general public with a specific view point for each story catered by the team. She is a proficient journalist who holds a reputable portfolio with proficiency in content analysis and research. With ample knowledge about the Automobile industry, she also contributes her knowledge for the Automobile section of the website.

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