This is the second time that the Peters have appealed to the State Board from adoption by the Waterloo board of a dress code. The first appeal ["Peters I"] sought review of the May 24, 2010 decision of the Waterloo board to adopt a prescriptive dress code. As in Peters I, the heart of the issue here is the District's legal authority to mandate that its students wear a uniform. Under the dress code at issue in Peters I, students were required to wear knee-length or longer shorts, slacks, skorts, skirts, or skirted jumpers of solid navy, black, or khaki/tan color with a non-sleeveless, collared top of a solid color specified by the school of attendance. These requirements were written in prescriptive ("a student must wear ?") terms.
Under the new dress code at issue here, students are prohibited from wearing anything but knee-length or longer shorts, slacks, skorts, skirts, or skirted jumpers of solid navy, black, gray, brown, or khaki/tan color with a non-sleeveless, collared top of a solid color specified by the school of attendance. The present dress code is written in proscriptive ("a student may not wear?") language to comply with section 279.58.
The State Board again concludes that the relevant statute is Iowa Code section 279.58, infra, which expressly vests the boards of directors of our public schools with authority to impose a limited dress code upon students. Further, the appropriate standard of review is for abuse of discretion, wherein this Board gives deference to a local board's decision unless the decision was "not based upon substantial evidence or was based upon an erroneous application of the law." Sioux City Comm. Sch. Dist. v. Iowa Dep't of Educ., 659 N.W.2d 563, 569 (Iowa 2003). That is, this Board must determine whether a reasonable person could have found sufficient evidence to come to the same conclusion as that reached by the local board.To achieve the result of imposing a uniform or standardized dress code on its students while coming into compliance with section 279.58, the District revised its dress code policy from prescriptive to proscriptive. Conversion by the District of its former prescriptive policy to one that is proscriptive was a necessary step for the District to take. However, it is much more important that the District deliberately and affirmatively used section 279.58 as its touchstone. This appeal is no longer about telling students what they must wear. The focus of this appeal is whether the proscriptive language of the new dress code falls within the authority of section 279.58. In Peters I, we took the District to task for not giving deference to section 279.58. Now that the District has based its new dress code policy on the provisions of that law, it is our turn to offer appropriate deference to the District. The evidence presented by the District this time around shows plentifully that the District created the necessary nexus between the needs of its students and the provisions of the dress code, saving what could have been a meaningless exercise in semantics into a substantive crafting of a lawful dress code. The lesson here for other local boards of education is not merely that dress codes need to be framed in proscriptive language. Apparel prohibited in a local dress code must be justified under section 279.58.
It is recommended that the decision of the Board of Directors of the Waterloo Community School District made on December 13, 2010, imposing mandatory district-wide dress code policy is AFFIRMED.