By CRISTINA JANNEY
Members of the Hays school board requested a change to the Hays elementary and middle school dress codes after a parent complained about a ban on clothing promoting satanism.
A mother of three students in Hays public schools, Mary Turner, spoke during the public comment period of the school board meeting Monday night.
She said she is a longtime member of the Satanic Temple.
"I raise my children according to the seven tenants of satanism, and while children of other faiths can wear clothing that declares their family's religion," she said, "my family's faith is specifically called out and banned in the school handbook dress code.
"Your own non-discrimination policies state that you do not discriminate against students based on religion. Your own mission says every student in every classroom every day," Turner said.
The Satanic Temple has been a federally recognized church for many years, Turner said.
"Banning Satanic students from wearing clothing that declares their faith while allowing students of all other faiths to wear similar clothing is an act of discrimination," she said.
"I am here to ask that the school board remove satanism from their dress code policy and they no longer blacklist my family's faith and the faith of other families here in Hays as distracting, unsafe or offensive," Turner said.
Later in the meeting, the school board took up second reading of the student handbooks in question.
There is no explicit ban on satanic clothing in the Hays High School handbook. It is specifically banned in the elementary and middle school handbooks.
The HHS dress code states: Attire worn in observance of a student’s religion are not subject to this policy. Questions should be directed to administration.
"I read that and I was very impressed with that dress code, and I thought that would be a very good dress code overall," board member Meagan Zampieri-Lillpopp said of the dress code in the HHS handbook.
Superintendent Ron Wilson said the litmus test for the policy is not about moral judgment, but whether the clothing would be considered disruptive.
"It is interesting on the previous page, we have a non-discrimination statement," Zampieri-Lillpopp said. "We have it up on our wall that we value diversity and we value inclusion and then we specifically say the name of one religion in the no list.
"I would challenge someone to put their own religion in that space and see how it feels," she said.
She added any statement could be disruptive if someone twisted it.
"The disruption is not the clothing," Zampieri-Lillpopp said. "The disruption is the person behaving in a disruptive manner."
Board member Curt Vajnar, who also was a longtime teacher for Hays USD 489, said he disagreed.
"As a school teacher in your classroom, it's a distraction," he said. "Some things you can put on a shirt that is a distraction. You're dealing with that and not teaching."
Vajnar gave the example of the "Big Johnson" shirts from several years ago.
Wilson said similar policies date back to the civil unrest during the Vietnam War.
Board member Tammy Wellbrock said she liked the idea of adding the word disruptive to the elementary and middle school policies.
Wilson agreed to take the dress code policies back to the administration and rework them.
The handbooks will come back before the board during their retreat meeting on Friday, Aug. 5. Wilson said the handbooks will need to be finalized then so they can be made available to students before the start of the school year.
The student handbooks will now include the new name of the Learning Center, which is now Hays Virtual Schools. Students no longer have to attend classes in-person at the school's computer lab. It serves students in grades nine and through adults.
Students from anywhere in the state can enroll in the program, but the program focuses highly on attendance whether online or in person.