ORANGE : School Dress Code Criticized, Defended

The Orange Unified School District's controversial anti-gang dress code came under fire this week when a student called it racist and a parent asked the school board to take the policy back to the drawing board.

The criticism came during a community meeting Tuesday night sponsored by the school district's DATE (Drug, Alcohol & Tobacco Education) and CASA (Community Against Substance Abuse) programs to discuss gang activity in the city.

"I feel (the dress code) is real discriminatory," said Raylene Guajardo, a 16-year-old senior at Orange High School. "It targets Mexican and black students because they're the only ones that wear the Kings and the Raiders clothes."

Guajardo was referring to the district's ban on Los Angeles Raiders, Kings and Dodgers hats and jackets, along with other items that school officials say have become identified with gang activity. The policy, which prohibits any clothing, hand signal or accessory that "disrupts school operations or is associated with a group that advocates or commits unlawful acts," went into effect on Monday.

Orange Unified trustee Russell Barrios responded that "students don't have the same rights as everybody else" when it comes to keeping them out of harm's way.

"We have the right to protect everyone on our campus," Barrios said.

Guajardo countered that if district officials feel a dress code is necessary to protect students, it should be extended to ban "the combat boots white supremacists wear and the pentagrams of the devil worshipers--it's all gangs."

Frank Boehler, director of child welfare for the district, explained that any banned items of clothing had to be connected with some kind of criminal activity "because we have to be able to defend" the policy.

But he added, "I think if there's any form of racism going on or if there's any unfairly applied restrictions, that's wrong."

During the community meeting, titled "Today's Youth and Gangs," local law enforcement officials gave about 75 parents, teachers, administrators and other community members a crash course on the city's gang problems.

Displaying photos of local gang members hoisting guns and flashing hand signals, Detective John Whiteley, a member of the Orange Police Department's gang unit, offered his support for the school district's dress policy.

"You have to make a decision when you're going to call an end to the nonsense," he said.

The Police Department has identified 15 resident gangs in the city and tracks 52 more that wander across its borders, Whiteley said. As nearby cities crack down on their gang populations, the groups are beginning to move to Orange, he said.

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