Ninth-grader Chad Hubbard's stabbing death nearly two months ago at Valley View Junior High School has jolted the staff, students and parents into an intense period of re-examining everything from discipline to the dress code.
This week, the Simi Valley school plans to survey parents and teachers on whether its 1,050 seventh- through ninth-graders should wear uniforms to steer them away from street-style baggy pants and the casual attitude some think they breed.
The idea sprang from a meeting of teachers, parents and students--one of many committees that have been looking hard at discipline problems and the school atmosphere since Chad was slain, allegedly by a schoolmate, on Feb. 1.
"Things happen in life that force you to refocus on what you're doing," Assistant Principal Donna Freeman said. "Any major event or trauma in your life is going to force you to refocus your priorities, and we wanted to make sure we were refocusing (ours)."
The committees also are looking at security, parental involvement, difficult students and classes to help youths resolve conflicts peacefully.
"A lot of the schools in Simi Valley are going through this now," said Don Gaudioso, Valley View's principal. "But we're doing a much more extensive review."
Parents of Valley View students are taking more interest in their children's welfare--in large part because Chad's death pushed the school to intensify and add to policy reviews that already were under way, Gaudioso said.
"In the past, kids were able to assure parents that once they were in junior high, they were OK by themselves and they didn't want (parents) around any more," Gaudioso said.
"There's sort of a motto we're trying to convey that, basically, junior high is not the time to drop out of your child's life," he said. "That's the time they need your support because of all the changes they're going through."
But by no means do all the teachers, students and parents agree on how to make Valley View a calmer and safer place to learn.
The dress code committee agreed to send out a survey on "school outfits"--the term "uniforms" was deemed too negative--only after long and spirited debate.
In one meeting last Thursday, talk bounced from the banning of hats to the idea that making students tuck in their shirts could simultaneously solve the dress-code no-nos of bare midriffs and low-slung, baggy pants.
Students seem to pay less attention and misbehave more often when the dress code is relaxed or ignored, Freeman said.
Paula McCormack, the school's guidance counselor, agreed.
"I think we can change with fashion and with style," McCormack said. "But I don't want a going-to-the-beach look, I don't want a hanging-out-at-the-mall look. I want a going-to-school look."
Tightening the dress code to restrict or outlaw hats or baggy pants could be only a temporary fix because fashions may change by September, she said.
"To you, do all baggy pants relate to gangs?" asked Nicole Thiesen, 13, an eighth-grader on the committee.
"They relate to school," Freeman answered. "They relate to what is the outlook of the child when they come to school."
Some adult committee members pointed out that misbehavior and even juvenile arrests have declined in uniform-mandatory schools in Burbank and cities such as Baltimore, where all public school students must wear uniforms.
But Nicole and Valley View classmate Ilene Squires, 12, said that students probably will break the code regardless.
"The way you dress has nothing to do with how good you do in class," Ilene said of the proposal. "You guys are trying to enforce something that I don't feel will work. Kids'll go out and try to dress like that, but they'll change it so they can look like they want."
Jim Michel, a Valley View parent on the dress code committee, added: "I don't care for this, and I think the kids--the majority of them--won't care for this either. You have 30 or 40 bad apples, so you're going to make a decision for 1,200 kids."
McCormack said the school probably will air the idea of school outfits this week in surveys that are mailed to parents and distributed to teachers.
Other surveys are planned, including one teachers are filling out on what parents can do on campus to improve the learning atmosphere at Valley View.
Two weeks ago, a survey given in homerooms asked students to list the three worst discipline problems at Valley View.
The three were fireworks, fighting and weapons, with smoking, drug and alcohol use, and disrespect close behind, according to the results of 725 surveys completed properly, Freeman said.
Recent events such as Chad's death and the detonation of a firecracker outside a classroom may have skewed results, she said.
The worst discipline problem by far is disrespect for each other and for teachers, she said.
But she added: "I was very pleased, for the most part, with what I saw the kids write." The students surveyed urged school disciplinarians to punish their peers with penalties ranging from calls to their parents to arrests by police.
About half the students said they do not like ratting on their friends and would hesitate to report rule-breakers to teachers, Freeman said.
"I feel pretty good about the fact that 50% of the kids would feel comfortable coming to a teacher or parent about these," Freeman said.
School officials say they hope this period of soul-searching will lead Valley View to a better atmosphere for learning and a better life for its students.
"Our goal is to have an ongoing review of the policies and procedures," Gaudioso said. "We're not looking at it as a one-time procedure."