Friday, August 15, 2003

More schools order kids to dress smart

Back to school

By Cindy Kranz
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[IMAGE] Santana Lipscomb, 17, and her brother, Derek, 13, show off their new uniforms outside North College Hill High School on Thursday.
(Brandi Stafford photo)
| ZOOM |
Fed up by the short skirts, midriff-baring tops and low-rider pants students were wearing to North College Hill Junior-Senior High School, Barbara Graves led a door-to-door petition drive last fall, gathering enough signatures to put all students in uniforms this year.

The district, which had a uniform policy at its elementary schools last year, is just the second Tristate public school system to require uniforms in grades K-12. (Last year, St. Bernard-Elmwood Place began to enforce a districtwide uniform policy.)

"You act the way you're dressed," said Graves, a North College Hill school board member and parent of a seventh-grader. "If you're dressed for business, you're going to act a different way. It got to be very disrespectful the way kids were dressed."

Graves has plenty of company. More Tristate public schools than ever before are setting uniform policies or strengthening their dress codes this fall - fueled in large part by frustrated parents and school board members leading the charge.

They're tired of excessive cleavage, low-riding pants that expose thongs and boxer shorts, and baggy jeans that drag on the floor. Besides their shoddy appearance, educators say, the baggy jeans are a safety issue.

It's not easy for schools to buck fashion trends when media images bombard teen-agers, said Karen Delaney, assistant principal at Falmouth's Pendleton County High School, which strengthened its dress code this year.

"(Media influence) is a strong force schools have to reckon with when we're dealing with adolescents," she said.

But schools in the Tristate mirror their national counterparts by introducing more modest and professional-looking dress into the classrooms.

"People support an environment in school that is more like you're going to work,'' said Gary Gellert, North College Hill superintendent. "This is parent-driven, and parents are our customers."

The Education Commission of the States, a Denver-based education research organization, has identified 21 states, including Ohio and Indiana, and the District of Columbia that have passed policies authorizing districts or schools to require uniforms.

Nationwide, 20 percent of public elementary schools had uniform policies in 2000.

At North College Hill, all students are required to wear navy blue or tan khaki slacks, shorts, skirts, skorts or jumpers, with a solid white or light blue shirt with a collar.

"I wore uniforms when I was little, so it doesn't really affect me," said Santana Lipscomb, a 17-year-old senior. "But being a senior, I'd like to dress in regular clothes.''

Lincoln Heights Elementary is the only school this year in the Princeton City School District to require uniforms. The 500 pupils in preschool to grade six must wear blue pants or jumpers, along with a white or blue collared shirt.

Parents were surveyed last year for their views.

"Seventy percent of our parents wanted to have uniforms because they felt it instilled more pride in self and others, and a sense of belonging to the school," said Cammie Montgomery, assistant principal.

Diane Taylor of Lincoln Heights, mother of a preschooler and first-grader, couldn't be happier.

"Everybody will look the same. You won't have the differences of who has high dollar clothes or has designer stuff. It puts everyone on the same level playing field."

She's also happy because she saves money by not having to buy so many clothes.

Bold steps

Some districts stopped short of adopting uniforms, but have taken steps to tighten the dress codes.

West Clermont's school board adopted a districtwide dress code that is more consistent among school buildings, with a few minor exceptions at the elementary level.

The push came from school board members who were frustrated by how many of the high school students dressed.

"The negative influences of the secular world have been showing up in our high schools, and it's just not acceptable," said board member Barbara Hartman, who led the movement for change.

The 9,000-student district found it was no longer effective to ask students to wear "appropriate" and "decent" apparel.

Hartman recalled attending a high school concert last year when a girl wearing a floor-length skirt walked across the stage. The skirt had a slit up to her undergarment. The scene gave her chills.

"Some of our students were showing up too scantily dressed, too distracting with different color hair," Hartman said. "Some things were downright unsanitary, such as piercings of the nose and mouth. They would play with them and then touch the desk, papers and doorknobs."

With the new dress code, which also applies to school-related functions, there is no doubt what can be worn to school, Hartman said.

"The tops need to be high enough so no cleavage shows," she said. "They're in an academic setting. We don't want them coming to school looking like Britney Spears. That's what some of them were getting to be, and we felt we had to clamp down."

Like most districts, West Clermont uses a progression of penalties if the dress code is violated. If a child is dressed inappropriately, every attempt will be made to keep him or her in class. If the problem is the student's shirt, they will be loaned an oversized T-shirt for the day. Continued purposeful violations could lead to detention or suspension.

Crystal Morrison, president of the Glen Este Middle School PTO for the past two years, said the new dress code will be easier to enforce. The previous policy was difficult to enforce, the Union Township woman said, because teachers and administrators interpreted things differently.

A student with short shorts might be sent to the office, while another would be allowed to show cleavage.

"Girls, in particular, are dressing more provocatively," said Morrison, whose daughter will be a freshman at Glen Este High School. "If you go to the store, it's difficult to find something cute that isn't low-cut."

Changes questioned

Lakota Local Schools has changed its dress code for the first time since 1987.

When the district's 16,311 students return Aug. 26, they'll be expected to have necklines high enough to cover cleavage. Their pants must be high enough so as not to reveal buttocks or underwear.

Rachel Shaw, a 17-year-old Lakota West High School senior, questions the changes, pointing out that parents wore revealing clothes, like tube tops and mini skirts, when they were teenagers.

"Part of being a teenager is going for the shock and awe value of society,'' Rachel said. "One of the ways to do this is with clothing. I do agree that teens should cool it with the super-low jeans where the butt hangs out, or flashing the cleavage. But the more rules that adults enforce, the harder kids will resist.

"Adults should be more worried about the education their children are receiving and that schools are up to par with all of the major issues. And when that is all taken care of, they should worry about trivial things like clothing," Rachel added.

Compromise was the key to a more stringent dress code for the 900 students who returned to school Wednesday at Pendleton County High School.

An early draft of the code called for banning blue jeans. Parents and students protested, partly because of economics and culture.

"This is a rural community where jeans are part of the lifestyle," said Delaney, the assistant high school principal.

As a result of feedback, students will be able to keep their blue jeans. However, they must wear collared shirts that are capable of buttoning to the neck.

Rule book is all about prep look

Here's a sampling of how some Tristate school districts are handling dress codes:

Lakota School District: "Lower garments are to be worn at the appropriate level, should not drag on the floor, and should not allow any portion of the buttocks or undergarments to be exposed when the student sits, stands, raises a hand or bends over."

Lincoln Heights Elementary: Solid blue pants or jumpers with either a white or sky blue collared shirt.

North College Hill Schools: "Students must wear solid white or light blue shirts with a collar. This includes oxfords, polos, dress shirts, blouses and turtlenecks. Tops are to be tucked into bottoms - no exposed midriffs."

Pendleton County High School: "Pants must be worn fitted at the waist, crotch and ankles - no sag, no bag, no drag. Pants are not to cover the shoe, dragging the ground."

West Clermont School District: (Grades 6-12) "Shirts, blouses, tops must be long enough to cover the midriff at all times. Sleeveless shirts and blouses should not have oversized armholes or open sides exposing undergarments or skin. May not be halters, crop, midriff, tank, strapless, backless, spaghetti strap or muscle shirts. May not be revealing."


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