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Wardrobe war 

District 11 to crack down on provocative clothing

click to enlarge Doherty High School junior Edward Schwarz, 16, wants - to be free to wear his drunkn munky T-shirt despite - any school dress code. - DAN WILCOCK
  • Dan Wilcock
  • Doherty High School junior Edward Schwarz, 16, wants to be free to wear his drunkn munky T-shirt despite any school dress code.

A new dress code that would clamp down on provocative clothing, give school principals expanded powers and potentially open the door to uniforms is on its way to School District 11.

The board of directors of Colorado Springs' largest school district will likely approve the new code at their next meeting on June 8, having asked for it earlier this year.

The revision comes in the wake of a T-shirt scandal at Wasson High School last year and observations by several directors that students are revealing far too much skin.

Not everyone is excited about the plan.

"It's taking away from one of the aspects of public school," said Edward Schwarz, 16, a junior at Doherty High School and former Catholic school student. "Freedom of expression -- that's why I left private school.

"It's important to wear a shirt that says something about you," he said.

'Schools are not a democracy'

Last November, the principal of Wasson High School banned T-shirts of the music act Insane Clown Posse, citing possible links to gang violence. In an act of civil disobedience, several students protested outside the school wearing Posse T-shirts. The school later received a message, allegedly from the band's fans, threatening a drive-by shooting.

"Schools are not a democracy," said Deb Key, the district's custodian of records, pointing to the school's need to maintain safety and order. "However, students' constitutional rights are not checked at the door."

Key formed a committee, upon the board's request, to revise the dress code. She gathered 16 school staff members, 11 parents and eight students to come up with the new policy, which was unveiled last week.

"The idea is enforcement and consistent application," she said, something that she says has been lacking in recent years.

The policy simplifies the pre-existing 1997 dress code, while expanding its scope. Vulgar, discriminatory or obscene language on clothing is prohibited, as is reference to gangs, illegal weapons, alcohol, tobacco or drugs. "Sexually provocative" clothing is similarly banned as well as "sleepwear," headwear and sunglasses. Individual administrators will determine what is vulgar, obscene or provocative on a case-by-case basis, Key said.

The midriff game

For board directors such as Craig Cox, who asked for the revision, a clear set of rules is long overdue.

"I drive past Palmer [High School] two or three times a day, and it all started with a question: Are we enforcing the dress code?" he said.

Cox was particularly disturbed by the trend among young women to wear midriff-revealing shirts.

The new policy, with the stated philosophy of "dress for success," will help prepare students for the working world, Key said.

The policy specifically empowers individual schools to go to uniforms as long as they allow students to opt out. School principals are also authorized to develop new guidelines as needed.

"The district is moving toward a more site-based management style," Key said.

As for donning uniforms, Cox said, "I would guess that it will probably happen." The change would probably come for some of the district's middle schools, he said, "because that's when kids begin to feel their oats."

Watchdogs who monitor First Amendment issues, however, urge caution.

"Schools are a place where students can practice responsible expression," said Sam Chaltain, of the First Amendment Center, a national nonprofit. "A new policy that comes from above is much more likely to engender a sharp reaction."

-- Dan Wilcock

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