WESTMINSTER : Parents Seek Tighter School Dress Code

Leonard Cowles doesn't like what he sees in Westminster schools.

Although the Westminster district's schools are all kindergarten through eighth grade, more and more kids are donning the baggy clothes flaunted by gang members and "taggers," those who spray-paint graffiti.

So Cowles, along with other parents and some school district board members, is pushing for a tighter dress code.

"Already, (dressing like a gang member) is a big deal in that age group," said Cowles, who has children in second and fourth grades at Frank N. Eastwood Elementary School.

"But I'm thinking about long term, eight or 10 years from now, what the population will be like then. It's important to attack (the problem) while it's still manageable."

The school board has discussed the issue at its last two meetings, and board members agreed that the code could be stronger.

"If this board takes a stand that kids can't wear those baggy clothes . . . we can enforce it and we should enforce it," said Trustee Margie L. Rice at the July 15 board meeting.

The district policy that has been in effect for about a year prohibits baggy pants, hats and Los Angeles Raiders jackets, which police have identified as being related to gang activity.

But school principals in the 18 schools choose how to enforce the policy or to add to it, said Aileen Manley, who chaired the dress code committee for the district.

"The dress code has been fairly open," Manley said. "Principals have the ability to determine whether a particular dress is gang-related. The 18 schools are all different; they all have a unique geography and demographics. Typically, we don't have a lot of problems with elementary-age students, but we want to be consistent in elementary schools so it's nothing new when they go to junior high."

Other districts, including Buena Park Unified and Capistrano Unified, have passed strict dress codes to regulate gang-related clothing. "Our dress code is full of 'mays' and 'what ifs,' " Cowles complained.

Manley said that when the principals return to school in September, the staff will review the code to see if it needs fine-tuning.

But Cowles wants something in writing before September.

"If we don't get tough, Westminster schools will become inner-city schools," he said. "And that is not a pleasant environment."

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