When Woodrow Wilson Elementary Principal Nancy Van Wyk instituted a new policy banning hooded sweatshirts or “hoodies” from classrooms this week, many parents and students misunderstood the intent behind the new policy.
In a letter that was both emailed and sent home to parents Tuesday, Van Wyk explained why the school implemented the new policy.
“One easy step we are going to take at WW, to eliminate classroom distraction, is to have students leave ‘hoodies’ in their lockers,” she wrote. “It’s been too convenient for students to pass cigarettes and hide cell phones in them.”
In an interview, Van Wky said sixth-grade students being caught with both regular and electronic cigarettes is a new problem that hasn’t occurred in recent WW history. Van Wyk also noted that cell phones going off in class has been a big distraction for teachers and students alike.
Almost immediately after the letter went out Tuesday, parents and students responded. Students opposed to the new rule circulated a petition, and Van Wyk said she had received numerous phone calls from parents. Van Wyk said she is thrilled by the response from both groups on the matter.
“I was beaming,” she said of the responses. “I got engagment with parents. Parents were calling me. They were interested in what was going on. They wanted to understand it and how it was affecting their kids. I’ve had a chance to communicate with a lot more parents.”
Van Wyk also was pleased with how her students responded.
“More exciting than that even, [Wednesday] morning I had 10 or 12 kids in my office wanting to talk to me about, ‘Why do we have to wear this?’ and it was great,” Van Wyk said. “I looked at them and said, ‘Now, what’s the real problem?’ and they said kids are bringing cell phones and cigarettes and passing them around and not following the rules.”
Van Wyk said she challenged those kids to come up with a solution to the problem and is currently waiting to hear back from them.
“Other parents are saying to me, ‘Thank you, thank you for being on top of this, even though we have to go through this measure, we know you have our kids’ best interest in mind,’” she said.
On the Daily News Facebook page, parents were asked what they thought about the new policy. Reaction was mixed.
“Passing cigarettes is an epidemic at the elementary school?” Andrew Swihart asked. “What if the hoodie is part of their outfit for the day? It would make me mad if my kid had to store his new Iowa hoodie in a locker all day instead of wearing it. You going to start patting them down everyday at the door too?”
Lisa Versendaal commented: “My children are upset by this, they live in hoodies! I’m not sure that this is a solution, kids will just find another way to pass them. If it’s that big of an issue, then the school should provide uniforms instead of parents having to buy new clothes that they are allowed to wear!”
In a second letter to parents sent out Wednesday, Van Wyk wrote that parents should not go out and buy new clothes. In the previous letter she wrote:
“If students are chilly during the day, they are certainly welcome to wear unhooded sweatshirts without pockets, or sweaters inside of the building,” Van Wky said. “Students will continue to wear any sweatshirt, jacket or coat for recess or other outside activities.”
Some Facebook commenters were very supportive of the new policy.
Randi Williams commented: “I like how everyone is defending the fact they should still keep the hoodies on rather than addressing the real issue at hand, why are elementary students passing cigarettes?,” Williams said. “If they are cold wear a sweatshirt that’s not a hoodie; simple answer. Wow, what is this world coming to? If that’s not solving the problem at least its’ a start. Maybe if it would start at home it wouldn’t have to be addressed at school.”
Amanda Dannels commented: “I’m sorry but I don’t believe if it was a one-time instance they would make the rule that (they) couldn’t wear hoodies. It’s obviously a problem or they would just punish the people responsible. Maybe we should all be more concerned about how kids are getting cigarettes to pass in school. I have to say, it sounds like if they get away with that, what’s next? Stop it before bigger problems surface like kids taking weapons. Our children should be safe in school, so if it means the they to wear a sweater without a pocket, then so be it!”
The Newton Community School District has strict policies against tobacco and electronic devices use on school grounds. The electronic policy states that:
“Students will not be allowed to have electronic devices such as pagers, two-way radios, electronic games, radios, iPods, laser lights, toys, etc. in school. These cause interruptions and can become a nuisance.”
The alcohol, tobacco and drugs policy states:
“All Newton Community Schools facilities are smoke-free. The use or possession of alcohol, tobacco in all forms, or drugs, other than those prescribed by a doctor, at school or school functions, is forbidden. Violation of this policy by students will result in disciplinary action.”
Van Wyk wrote she thinks the situation will resolve itself and thinks the kids will help come up with a solution.
“We are going to take just this simple step so that we can continue on with teaching kids,” she said.
Staff writer Ty Rushing may be contacted at (641) 792-3121, ext. 426, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.