Pine River-Backus School District: District considers allowing students to wear baseball caps, use headphones

Principal and dean seek allowances for hats and headphones

prb school sign
Echo Journal file photo.

Pine River-Backus High School Principal Chris Halverson and Dean of Students Gina Bauman presented suggested changes to the district's student handbook during the Monday, July 19, regular school board meeting, with some resistance to a recommendation to ease restrictions on hats and headphones.

The board took no action.

The current handbook has a policy dictating when and where cellphone use is allowable. That same section has wording that does not allow students to use headphones to listen to their devices in the hallways between classes. Halverson and Bauman suggested a change to that policy.

Bauman said it is common for high school students to try to unwind during breaks between classes by listening to music in the hallways. They currently blare music through the speakers on their devices. Allowing headphones during breaks between classes could cut down on noise in the hallways.

Some school board members were unsure of the suggestion.


Board Chair Chris Cunningham said he was concerned that allowing headphones would make students act like mindless drones in the hallways.

"We only ask for their attention for seven hours a day," Cunningham said. "I don't think it's too much in between classes. If it's good for one it has to be good for everybody. It's just a respect thing."

He said all headphones and devices should be left at home.

Cunningham said he worried about students not being able to listen to other students and staff who are trying to get their attention while going through the hallways. Board member Katy Botz said she worried about emergency drills.

Board member Leslie Bouchonville said she appreciated the staff's goal of trying to create a way for students to wind down without disturbing others. She asked if there was a time designated for such a wind down. Bauman said traditionally the lunchroom during lunch had been recommended for such use.

Superintendent Jonathan Clark reminded the board that the policy on devices and headphones was written in a time when cellphones were the only devices that students might use in this way. Now the district distributes its own devices, so students will always have access to those devices.

He pointed out that aside from large noise-canceling earmuffs, headphones are unlikely to drown out the sound of the district's emergency alarms.

Botz said there might be an issue of theft, as her granddaughter had firsthand experience with the theft of a pair of expensive earbuds. Halverson and Bauman acknowledged theft could be an issue. They said the handbook dictates how the district will handle theft. It also has a section that recommends against bringing certain items to school for risk of theft.


It was pointed out that some teachers use music as a reward and allow students to listen in their class under certain circumstances.

Bauman and Halverson also recommended lifting the district's restriction on baseball type caps. The recommendation was made in part when staff reviewed student handbooks for other area schools and learned that many schools no longer restrict baseball caps.

Bauman and Halverson agreed with board members that restrictions should remain in place for hats that would obscure students' eyes and ears, such as hoods and beanie caps.

Bauman said a ban on hoods should remain because it not only hides a student's ears, which may allow them to wear headphones during class, but also obscures much of their head, including their eyes. In addition, she said students with their hoods up may appear intimidating to some teachers.

The recommended changes would require that caps be worn front facing only, with only appropriate logos. In addition to considering other district handbooks, Halverson said the recommendation was made when looking outside of the district, where many adults during public meetings and gatherings or even at work wear baseball caps.

"If we are mimicking what's going on in society, that's become the norm," Halverson said. "Many of these kids don't come from or understand the traditional respect piece. If we are the only institution to enforce this and talk about it, it's going to be a tough one to tell kids about."

Halverson said he wanted his time used in the best way and urged the board to trust him and the dean of students in saying that they have more important policies to enforce rather than taking time away from learning to argue over hats.

He said they had already loosened enforcement when students returned from at home learning so that students could ease back in, and during that time he never saw any larger issues arising from hats. Bauman said she did occasionally have to remind students to straighten their hats.


Cunningham said he felt that allowing baseball caps could be asking for trouble. He said students might try to wear other head coverings, including large cowboy hats, religious headdresses (which the district cannot legally restrict) and others. Cunningham said students wearing cowboy hats could block the view of the students sitting behind them.

Clark pointed out some of these head coverings might not be allowed under the district's restriction on distracting clothing. He said that approximately 50% of teachers oppose baseball caps in the classrooms. Because he and the dean of students cannot enforce this issue alone, that is not enough staff to enforce the hat restriction as a rule.

Bouchonville said giving students some room allows them to learn to be responsible with their behaviors and clothing.

"We aren't raising kids. We're raising adults," Bauman said. "When they go into the workforce or college, they will be wearing hats."

Travis Grimler is a staff writer for the Pineandlakes Echo Journal weekly newspaper in Pequot Lakes/Pine River. He may be reached at 218-855-5853 or

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