Sunday, September 19, 2004

School dress codes wear thin


Complaints, cultural changes help relax rules

By Karen Gutierrez
Enquirer staff writer

In the war over school dress codes, students sometimes win.

Consider the case of Scott High School in Taylor Mill. Last year it tried to ban edgy T-shirt slogans, and in the first six days of school, dozens of students got in trouble.

The bad vibe wasn't worth it. This year, administrators dropped the rule, which explains what senior Chris Sanders was wearing the other day. Nobody batted an eye at his shirt, which said, "Redneck Divorce: 'Git out of the truck!' "

"Some teachers thought it was funny," Chris said.

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For all that students complain about rules, some educators say they're keenly aware of the risks in being too strict for the culture of particular schools.

That's why committees have been known to spend six hours discussing burning issues such as the flip-flops epidemic. Are the shoes unsafe? Unseemly? Just plain ugly?

There's a fine line between maintaining civility and stoking unnecessary resentment.

"It goes to school climate. If kids don't like to come to school because of what they're wearing, they're not going to learn," said Stephen Sorrell, principal of R.A. Jones Middle School in Florence.

This fall, students at Jones got a pleasant surprise. After a year of meetings, a committee decided to once again allow jeans at the school, which had required khakis for the last six years.

Students can now keep their shirttails untucked as well, although they must wear polos, Sorrell said.

"We did hear a lot of complaints from our kids, so we were trying to respond to them," he said. The new code is also more in line with the high school the student will attend, he said.

Other recent examples of schools relaxing rules:

• New Richmond schools this year are allowing students to wear Capri pants. Parents had complained about the illogic of banning them but permitting skirts.

• The Winton Woods district modified its rule requiring shirts to be tucked in, primarily out of sensitivity to oversized students.

The policy permits shirts to be untucked if they are no longer than mid-hip.

Early indications are that the current dress code requires less staff time to administer.

• Walnut Hills High School backed off an announcement, made at an assembly last year, that students should stop wearing flip-flops.

The next day, half the school wore them in protest, and the rule was never enforced, senior Lilly Fink Shapiro said.

An administrator confirmed her account.

"I figure at this age, some decisions, they have to make for themselves," said Stephanie Morton, an assistant principal.

At Scott High School this year, the change in the T-shirt rule has resulted in an explosion of slogans. Some are ironic, some funny and some loaded with double meaning.

Scott's new rule coincides with a trend in teenage fashion.

Labels such as Hollister and Abercrombie & Fitch are playing with innuendo that doesn't always register with busy administrators.

At Sycamore High, teachers are more concerned with bare midriffs and short skirts than T-shirt slogans, sophomore Daniel Zimmer said.

"I saw a teacher walk right past a student wearing a shirt that said, 'Got crabs?' " Daniel recalled. A promotion for a crab restaurant, the tee also alludes to a sexually transmitted condition.

The atmosphere at Scott High is more positive since the T-shirt rule was changed, students and administrators say. But the school does have its limits.

Assistant Principal Shane Rogers said a few students have been ordered to change shirts this year. Among the offending tees: One that referred to "well-hung" drywall and another featuring a polar bear and the message, "Do it nude under 32 degrees."

"We took care of that," Rogers said.

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E-mail kgutierrez@enquirer.com




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