Thursday, February 01, 2001

A confession

The wrong thong can really hurt

        It's the thing reporters dread. A mistake.

        This is worse than the time I put Hilton Head in the wrong Carolina and Mark Twain in the wrong century. When I first saw the letter from Lucy Riffle, principal of Tichenor Middle School in Erlanger, I had a few unworthy moments. Maybe, I thought, I could weasel out of this on a technicality.

        Technically, I was correct. The written dress code established in the fall of 1999 by the Erlanger-Elsmere Board of Education does forbid the wearing of thongs by teachers and staff.

        But they were talking about shoes, not underwear.

Accidental underwear
        I did wonder how officials would enforce this regulation. As it turns out, they merely have to look at the person's feet. Which is a lot easier than what I envisioned when I wrote about the boom in this underwear fad. (“America's new thong and dance,” Jan. 28.)

        It has to be a fad, doesn't it? Surely people will get over this and return to the days when we wore decent underwear in case we were in an accident. My generation did not want to give anybody the idea that we were too sleazy to live.

        But this is not about underwear. It is about footwear. Making amends. Apologizing. Taking my medicine.

        Time for a trip to the principal's office. Mrs. Riffle said I didn't have to come in person. We talked on the telephone.

        Berate me, I told her. I'll quote you.

        Mrs. Riffle is more interested in education than in punishment.

        She says carefully that the thongs noted in the dress code are shoes, “flip flops.” Like people wear in the shower or on the beach. But not at Mrs. Riffle's school.

        The school board's formal dress code “really made very little difference here,” she said. “Our teachers have always dressed professionally. They see themselves as role models for the students.”

        And their underwear has never been an issue?


Team Tichenor
        Well, as long as I have you on the phone, Mrs. Riffle, is there anything else you'd like people to know about your school? Besides the flip-flop thing?

        “Team Tichenor,” she said promptly. Of course, as athletics are the center of the universe, I am thinking she means basketball. Or football. Instead it's a crime watch program.

        “Students are trained to watch for unsafe situations. Kids know better than anybody else what's going on.”

        Members of the team — between 80 and 90 students in a school of 460 — also have projects, such as cleaning up parks. “I feel like it helps good kids take over their own school.”

        Vandalism, she said, has “just about disappeared.” Discipline problems have been “cut in half.” Drugs and guns have not been a problem at Tichenor — and we both solemnly knock on wood — “but we think we are giving kids the support they need to help us keep the school safe.”

        A teacher since 1977 and principal at Tichenor for the past nine years, Mrs. Riffle says she feels very hopeful about the future of education. “Technology has made a great difference. And I think people are beginning to understand the importance of teachers.”

        Myself, I am feeling hopeful, too. This educator who had the perfect chance to tap dance all over me, to rap my knuckles and scold, chose instead to teach.

       E-mail Laura at or call 768-8393.


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