By CRISTINA JANNEY
The Hays school board voted 6-1 Friday morning to reverse its prohibition on Satanism in the schools' dress code.
The school board met in executive session for 45 minutes in consultation with its attorney and an attorney from the Kansas Association of School Boards.
About two dozen community members were present at the meeting, but there was no public comment session during the special meeting.
The revised policy unifies all the school dress code policies in the district to match board and KASB policy. It says ...
"Students must dress in a manner that is not obscene, offensive or substantially or materially disruptive to the learning environment. Apparel that is sexually suggestive or that promotes violence, illegal activities, drugs, alcohol or tobacco or that is determined to be gang related is prohibited."
Board member Tammy Wellbrock said the changes allows for consistency across the district. Board member Meagan Zampieri-Lillpopp said the consistency will help families.
The former policy in the elementary and middle school handbooks specially prohibited apparel that promoted satanism. At the board's July meeting, a parent, who said she was a longtime member of the Satanic Temple, opposed the policy because she said it infringed on her children's expression of their religion.
The handbooks were brought back to the board with the word satanism removed from the elementary and middle school handbooks. The high school handbook never specifically addressed satanism.
The board's attorney at that Aug. 5 meeting told members they might be opening the district to a lawsuit based on that action.
The board Friday did not specifically address if the district had been threatened with a lawsuit. However, Hays Post received a copy of an open records request that had been submitted to the district on materials related to the satanism issue filed by Adam Steinbaugh, a First Amendment attorney.
Board member Curt Vajnar, who had initially made the motion on Aug. 5 to add the prohibition of satanic apparel to all school handbooks, referenced the threat of lawsuits prior to his vote to support the removal of the reference to satanism in the handbooks on Friday.
"I will vote yes for this," Vajnar said. "I don't like it. The liability of teachers and administrators does concern me. If we are going to lose millions of dollars in a lawsuit, and we have no way to win, we're caught."
Board Member Allen Park, who also initially voted for the prohibition of satanic apparel, also backpedaled Friday.
"I appreciate all the interests and concerns of our citizens," Park said. "I think we need to have that information. I think we can all agree there is a reason there is a separation of church and state in there, and this is what we have been practicing for almost a decade."
Board President Craig Pallister also reversed his stance on the issue.
"It has been hard on all the people who have been in this discussion," Pallister said, "because you have your heart. You have your head, and you have your position on the school board. I have had to really look at my heart, my head and my position on the school board and, as Curt said, the legal liability."
Pallister, who is a former district middle school principal, said the change will allow administrators to quell any disruption to the school day.
Board Ken Brooks was the lone board member who voted to oppose the removal of satanism as a prohibited part of the dress code.