Crook schools debate dress code

By Rachael Scarborough King / The Bulletin
Published: January 23. 2007 5:00AM PST

PRINEVILLE – The members of the Crook County School Board are lukewarm on the idea of introducing uniforms to the district’s schools, but they are adamant about one concept: they want to see less of the students’ underwear.

“Style or not, I still don’t like looking at people’s thongs,” board Chairwoman Janet Roberts said.

Elementary, middle and high school principals told the board Monday night that they have seen less dress code violations this year than in the past, in part because the the trend of low-riding pants for girls and boys seems to be changing.

“This year we’ve had the least amount of problems of getting students to follow the dress code than ever, and part of it is that styles have changed,” Crook County Middle School Principal Rocky Miner said. “Our problem has always been the bare midriffs showing, and that is kind of going out of style, so that is nice.”

The school board met Monday night for its periodic review of the dress code in the county’s schools. Superintendent Steve Swisher said it was the third time in as many years that the board has met with school principals on this topic, but it was the first time that a student group participated.

High school seniors David Schas, Linsay Webb and Marisa VanDomelen presented the results of a survey they asked teachers to conduct last week, and made some recommendations for improving student dress. The survey found that out of 421 students observed during class about 4 percent, or 17 students, were violating the dress code.

But Marisa pointed out that the temperature on those days was in the low 30s, and that students tend to wear skimpier clothing when the weather warms up in the spring. She and Linsay said they think a specific guideline about skirt length should be added to the district’s dress code.

“Thongs are kind of showing in another area now with miniskirts,” Linsay said. “We were watching a girl walking down the hall and her butt cheeks were showing.”

The students’ recommendations for encouraging compliance with the dress code included specifying a day when all teachers would dress inappropriately to raise awareness.

“No 17-year-old wants to see their 35-year-old teacher with their boxers hanging out,” Marisa said.

Crook County High School Principal Jim Golden told the board the major issue he sees is with students that have drug- or alcohol-related messages or sexually suggestive double entendres.

Swisher said the school district has general dress code guidelines in place, and each school adopts its own specific policies.

The county’s school dress code states that students’ clothing and grooming should not disrupt or interfere with the classroom learning environment; threaten the health and safety of any students; or be sexually, racially or religiously offensive.

Further guidelines adopted in 1997, three years after the original dress code, go on to say that bandannas and sweatbands worn on the head are not allowed, “shorts may be worn loose but not ‘sagging,'” midriffs and tank tops are banned and students’ underwear must not be showing.

The dress code for the Bend-La Pine Schools, similarly, says that students “have the right to make individual choices from a wide range of clothing and grooming styles, but they must not present a health or safety hazard or a distraction which would interfere with the educational process.”

Culver Middle School enacted a more stringent policy at the beginning of this school year, requiring students to wear shirts in the school’s colors of orange, gray, black or white. And the Oregon Trail School District is currently exploring the option of school uniforms.

The principals at Monday night’s meeting noted that socio-economic factors often play a role in students’ dress; some children may wear flip-flops because they are cheaper than other shoes, and baggy clothing is often a hand-me-down from an older sibling. Swisher said that about 52 percent of the county’s students receive free or reduced-price lunch.

The school board did not take any action Monday night, but the members agreed that some parts of the dress code are too vague and should be looked at in the future. School board members also raised questions about whether teachers are dressing appropriately, but Swisher said that topic is one that would be part of the collective bargaining process with the teachers union.

Board members said they are not currently in favor of implementing districtwide uniforms.

“Uniforms to me would be a last resort if the school district was out of control, if there was too much gang wear and inappropriate (clothing),” Roberts said.

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