Friday, October 5, 2007

What’s on Your T-shirt?

A student in a Texas school was recently expelled from campus for wearing the wrong message on his t-shirt. Was it some kind of racist comment? No. Gang slogans? Nope. Perhaps a beer ad, showing scantily clad bimbos frolicking with cartoon dogs? Not even. No, this teen had the temerity to sport a top emblazoned with “John Edwards ’08.” Now, granted, those are fightin’ words in some ultra-red parts of our state (and most of Oklahoma), but is it really enough to get kicked out of school? According to the Waxahachie School Board it is. You see, their dress code states that “T-shirts, other than WISD clubs, organizations, sports, or spirit t-shirts, college or university t-shirts or solid-colored t-shirts, are prohibited.” That seems pretty restrictive, but perhaps the wise village elders in that sleepy little hamlet figured that they’d rather be safe than sorry. At least they are very clear about their intent. They state exactly what is allowed. All else is off limits. (One wonders what their reaction would be to some of the Texas / OU “spirit t-shirts” I’ve seen around town this week.) My curiosity aroused, I decided to take a peek at what Frisco ISD has to say on the subject ( Our school board has not taken the route of imposing such a clear restriction. Instead, they rely on a policy that bans: “pictures, emblems, or writings on materials or clothing that are lewd, offensive, vulgar, immodest, or promote or refer to alcoholic beverages, drugs, or any other substance prohibited under policy FNCF (1).” The dress code goes on to prohibit “shirts or other clothing items depicting or promoting acts of violence, guns, weapons, death, dismemberment, disfigurement, gang activity or affiliation or other offensive items.” Other than these items, one might assume that anything else is fair game. Not so fast. To give school administrators that additional silver bullet, this item is included: “The district also prohibits any clothing or grooming that in the principal’s judgment may reasonably be expected to cause disruption of or interference with normal operations.” Any parent of a middle or high-school student can pick out the fly in that ointment: “Reasonable” is not an adjective often applied to kids at that age. And I’m not sure how a simple item of clothing can interfere with normal operations. On top of these broad banishments there are a few other, more specific items. “Shoes must be worn at all times.” Pretty much a no-brainer there. “Sagging pants are not allowed. Jeans, slacks, shorts, and all other pants must be worn at or about the waist at all times.” This is a fashion trend destined to take its place with bell-bottoms and leg warmers in the “what were we thinking” hall-of-fame. Then there’s this tidbit: “Clothing should be worn for the purpose for which it was designed.” Are we having a problem with kids walking around with underwear on their heads? The debate over school dress codes has nagged at school administrators since the Beaver wore an unbuttoned collar to gym class in 1958. The pendulum swings every few years from leniency to calls for standardized uniforms. I’ve even heard a few parents around Frisco extolling the virtues of this concept. A brief chat with someone who grew up in a system with uniforms shows that even they found ways to personalize their attire. The bottom line is that parents have to take responsibility for educating their kids on what is and isn’t appropriate. But beyond that, it’s up to the students themselves to make their own choices. As long as FISD sets out clear guidelines like those above, students have a wide range of latitude to express themselves through clothing. And the fact is, wearing oddball or outlandish styles is probably the least permanent form of expression they have. Outside of a few embarrassing photos in the yearbook, there will be little evidence of their “gangsta” phase after they mature. Now piercings and tattoos, on the other hand… don’t get me started!

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