SPECIAL REPORT : O.C. Districts Fashion Strict New Dress Codes : Schools: Gang-style and other questionable items barred to keep the focus on education. Students will learn that more clothes now clash with the rules.
The pencils are sharpened, the lunch box packed and the knapsack stuffed, but still there is that nagging question the night before the First Day of School.
What to wear?
This age-old dilemma that has overheated teen-agers’ telephone lines and befuddled parents has an added twist this year: Orange County schools have toughened their dress codes in efforts to keep students focused on education and shield their campuses from gang activity.
Hats are out in most places.
School officials have just said no to T-shirts depicting drugs, alcohol and cigarettes.
Earrings should be seen, not heard.
Midriffs and buttocks must be kept from public view.
And, in general, clothes should fit--not sag or lag or bag.
“I want our kids to understand that they are part of a student body, not a gang,” was the way Santa Ana Unified Supt. Rudy Castruita explained. “The main goal of a dress code is to make sure that (when) our kids come to school, they are going to be attired in an environment that’s for education.”
Sure, schools have always had rules about what students wear: Going barefoot, for instance, is pretty much out. Same for showing too much skin or wearing accessories that might offend or harm classmates.
But with hip-hop fads mimicking the styles of street gangs, and teens using everything from bandannas to colored shoelaces to identify gang affiliation, the latest round of restrictions show administrators’ desperate struggle to shape guidelines that keep up.
Nearly every district has a blanket ban on “gang-related attire,” letting administrators blacklist items based on the latest fads. Officials say this will keep campuses out of gangs’ often violent turf battles, and protect students from becoming targets of gang warfare just because they happen to be wearing the wrong thing.
With more than half a dozen shootings on or around Orange County campuses last fall, school officials aren’t taking any chances.
“If you look like a duck and you walk like a duck and you quack like a duck, you just can’t be around when it’s duck season,” said Frank Boehler, who handles truancy problems for the Orange Unified School District.
“When somebody’s driving by a location, and certain kids are dressed like gangsters, those bullets do not determine which ones really are gangsters and which ones are just dressed like gangsters,” he said. “We have a responsibility to do everything we can to make safe environments in the community and in our schools.”
Thinking safety, dress-code drafters have rummaged through the closet and come up with a laundry list of items they say are dangerous.
In Capistrano Unified, pricey Pendleton shirts have been outlawed because some gang members favor the wool, plaid work shirts. Santa Ana has banished all professional sports logos and college regalia as a zealous response to ‘bangers penchant for L.A. Raiders jackets and blue-and-gray Georgetown Hoyas sweat shirts.
Which brings us to overalls.
You know, good ‘ol Oshkosh B’gosh. Grandpa wore ‘em. They’re OK--unless the straps hang down, which is a big no-no in the Westminster and Capistrano districts.
For some items, administrators offer logical explanations: Who knows what’s hiding under jeans that are 10 sizes too big? Spiked collars could hurt someone. Thongs just aren’t practical for gym class. But ask about hair nets, combat boots, wristbands, shoelaces, or, well, those overalls, and the simple answer will be the same: “gangs.”
To students, though, the question is fashion.
“I don’t wear the baggy stuff, but . . . that’s the style. (My friends) wouldn’t feel comfortable wearing tight clothes,” said Kelly Maakestad, a junior at Bolsa Grande High in Garden Grove. “It expresses them. If they put a ban on it, it would tell them not to express themselves.”
Under state law, public schools cannot require a particular mode of dress, but they can ban certain items to promote safety or limit disruptiveness. Rules that compromise students’ rights to free expression, however, are not allowed.
Schools do not plan severe punishments for dress code faux pas: the student will most often just have to go home and change.
This is hardly the first battle over what can be worn on public school campuses.
A generation or more ago, dress codes meant girls couldn’t wear pants, and a boy’s ducktail couldn’t scratch his collar. Jeans were forbidden altogether. High heels? Forget it. Once upon a time, they even required ties.
More recently, students and administrators have tangled over T-shirts, leading to current regulations in most local districts that prohibit symbols or slogans about drugs, alcohol, cigarettes or bigotry.
“I’ve been in this business long enough to see this thing go at least 180 degrees,” said Duncan Johnson, superintendent of the Fullerton City School District, where gang-related attire is out and several elementary schools will experiment with voluntary uniforms this fall.
“I’ve seen us go from the point where dress codes were challenged and overthrown and young people got the right to wear whatever they want, to the point where now I receive comments from all segments in the community about the desirability of students wearing some kind of uniform dress because of safety.”
These new dress codes, though, are not just another version of the long-running clash between students’ sense of style and adults’ images of appropriateness.
Because the focus is on gangs, the situation is a bit stickier.
What is popular among graffiti vandals and other street criminals differs from city to city--and so do the dress codes. Why else would a Pendleton shirt be ousted in South County but not necessarily in Santa Ana? Even more troublesome is that fashions change quicker than schools can reprint their policies.
“If you ban particular items, the only thing that gang-related types of kids will do is identify another item and wear it, almost in defiance, until you ban that one,” cautioned Bill Eller, who heads the Cypress elementary school district, where the dress code simply bans “disruptive” clothing. “They can make adjustments faster than you can make policies.”
Terry Simon of Costa Mesa, president of the countywide Parent-Teachers Assn., took the problem one more step: “As quickly as we distribute this information, (gangs) change their chosen article,” she said. “Sometimes this ban is productive and sometimes it’s a false sense of security.”
Students and clothes designers complain that the dress codes were written by people who don’t know what’s hot and what’s not. They contend that baggy pants, combat boots and T-shirts depicting marijuana leaves are stylish, not criminal. And they scoff at the notion of stopping campus violence by raiding students’ closets.
“It just so happens that the trend right now is to look like a tough guy or a kid from the street,” said Carl Jones, president of the urban wear company Threads 4 Life, which designs Cross Colours clothing.
“The schools have overreacted to clothing that kids wear because they have nothing else to attack,” Jones said. “It has nothing to do with what a kid wears as to the violence in the school. If the kid’s not doing what he should be doing in the classroom, it doesn’t matter what size his pants are.”
Richard Poth, president of the Portland, Ore.-based Pendleton Woolen Mills company that makes the $65 plaid shirts, said his rugged outdoor wear is hardly gang attire.
“The Beach Boys wore our shirts,” Poth said. “People know the shirt as they might know Cadillac. . . . It might be a status symbol to have one now and the schools say they want to keep that out.”
And what about the blackball on team-sports stuff?
“I’m a (L.A.) Kings fan,” said Brian Singer, 17, who will be a senior at Fullerton High this fall. “The Kings were in the Stanley Cup (finals) and I think the people who want to show their support for the team should be able to wear a hat.”
As dress codes get broader, they may be more susceptible to legal challenge, said Orange County attorney Wylie Aitken, who handles civil liberties cases. The restrictions raise questions not only about students’ freedom, he said, but about discrimination based on race or income level.
Why, for example, are the baggy styles that are popular among people of color off-limits, but high-ticket items such as Birkenstock sandals OK?
“Once you allow someone to start telling you how to dress and how you should look, then the question becomes, ‘Where will it end?’ ” Aitken said. “It becomes discriminatory against kids that are perhaps lower class and are wearing things that they can afford. . . . I would be more impressed if they were to restrict designer clothes rather than T-shirts.”
“It seems to me you’re kind of treating the symptoms and not really dealing with issues,” he added. “It seems to me we spend more time on rules and less time dealing with the real problem. We have to allow kids to be kids.”
But several administrators shrugged off the First Amendment concern, saying that students’ safety is their chief responsibility. Many said they have students’ support, and stressed the role of parents and police in designing the dress codes.
“It’s like being out in the street and a big truck is coming after (the students), I’m going to push them out of the way,” La Habra Supt. Richard Hermann said. “Maybe they’ll get a little hurt, but I’m saving them from something more tragic happening.”
* WHAT’S OUT: Chart lists the details of which O.C. districts prohibit what. A10
* BAD EXAMPLES: Pictorial shows items banned at some schools but not others. A11
* UNIFORM REACTION: Some public school officials, teachers and parents find that uniforms can be trendy too. B1
Dress Codes: Fashioning Student Attire
Orange County schools are toughening their dress codes in efforts to keep students focused on education and shield campuses from gang activity. Nearly every district has a blanket ban on “gang-related attire.” Others have more specific prohibitions. Here is a list by district of clothing rules and numbers to call for more information.
Unsafe, Gang- Immodest unhealthy related Clothing attire UNIFIED DISTRICTS Brea-Olinda + + Capistrano + + + Garden Grove + Irvine + Laguna Beach + Los Alamitos *** Newport Mesa Orange + Placentia-Yorba Linda + + Saddleback Valley + Santa Ana + Tustin + + + HIGH SCHOOL DISTRICTS Anaheim Union + + + Fullerton Joint Union + + + Huntington Beach Union + + ELEMENTARY SCHOOL DISTRICTS Anaheim City (K-6) + + Buena Park (K-8) + Centralia (K-6) ** ** Cypress (K-6) + Fountain Valley (K-8) + + Fullerton (K-8) + Huntington Beach City (K-8) ** ** + La Habra (K-8) + Lowell Joint School (K-8)****** + Magnolia (K-6) Ocean View + + Savannah (K-6) Westminster (K-8) + + +
Raiders/ Thongs/ Baggy team Hats sandals Pants jackets UNIFIED DISTRICTS Brea-Olinda Capistrano + + Garden Grove + Irvine Laguna Beach Los Alamitos ++ + Newport Mesa Orange + Placentia-Yorba Linda Saddleback Valley Santa Ana + + + Tustin + HIGH SCHOOL DISTRICTS Anaheim Union Fullerton Joint Union + Huntington Beach Union ELEMENTARY SCHOOL DISTRICTS Anaheim City (K-6) + + Buena Park (K-8) + + + Centralia (K-6) Cypress (K-6) Fountain Valley (K-8) Fullerton (K-8) + Huntington Beach City (K-8) + ** La Habra (K-8) Lowell Joint School (K-8)****** + + + Magnolia (K-6) + + + Ocean View + + Savannah (K-6) Westminster (K-8) + + + +
Halters, tube Controversial Combat tops ****T-shirts boots UNIFIED DISTRICTS Brea-Olinda + + Capistrano + + Garden Grove + Irvine Laguna Beach Los Alamitos + *** Newport Mesa + Orange Placentia-Yorba Linda Saddleback Valley Santa Ana + Tustin + + HIGH SCHOOL DISTRICTS Anaheim Union + + Fullerton Joint Union Huntington Beach Union ELEMENTARY SCHOOL DISTRICTS Anaheim City (K-6) Buena Park (K-8) + Centralia (K-6) Cypress (K-6) Fountain Valley (K-8) + Fullerton (K-8) Huntington Beach City (K-8) ** ** La Habra (K-8) Lowell Joint School (K-8)****** + Magnolia (K-6) + Ocean View + + Savannah (K-6) Westminster (K-8) + +
Pendleton shirts UNIFIED DISTRICTS Brea-Olinda Capistrano + Garden Grove Irvine Laguna Beach Los Alamitos Newport Mesa Orange Placentia-Yorba Linda Saddleback Valley Santa Ana Tustin HIGH SCHOOL DISTRICTS Anaheim Union Fullerton Joint Union Huntington Beach Union ELEMENTARY SCHOOL DISTRICTS Anaheim City (K-6) Buena Park (K-8) Centralia (K-6) Cypress (K-6) Fountain Valley (K-8) Fullerton (K-8) Huntington Beach City (K-8) La Habra (K-8) Lowell Joint School (K-8)****** Magnolia (K-6) Ocean View Savannah (K-6) Westminster (K-8)
Overalls with straps Encourages Bandannas undone Uniforms* UNIFIED DISTRICTS Brea-Olinda Capistrano + + + Garden Grove Irvine Laguna Beach Los Alamitos Newport Mesa Orange Placentia-Yorba Linda Saddleback Valley Santa Ana + + Tustin HIGH SCHOOL DISTRICTS Anaheim Union Fullerton Joint Union + Huntington Beach Union ELEMENTARY SCHOOL DISTRICTS Anaheim City (K-6) + Buena Park (K-8) Centralia (K-6) Cypress (K-6) Fountain Valley (K-8) Fullerton (K-8) + + Huntington Beach City (K-8) La Habra (K-8) + Lowell Joint School (K-8)****** Magnolia (K-6) + Ocean View + Savannah (K-6) Westminster (K-8) + +
Special Rules***** UNIFIED DISTRICTS Brea-Olinda Capistrano + Garden Grove + Irvine + Laguna Beach + Los Alamitos Newport Mesa + Orange + Placentia-Yorba Linda + Saddleback Valley + Santa Ana Tustin + HIGH SCHOOL DISTRICTS Anaheim Union + Fullerton Joint Union + Huntington Beach Union + ELEMENTARY SCHOOL DISTRICTS Anaheim City (K-6) + Buena Park (K-8) + Centralia (K-6) Cypress (K-6) + Fountain Valley (K-8) Fullerton (K-8) + Huntington Beach City (K-8) + La Habra (K-8) + Lowell Joint School (K-8)****** + Magnolia (K-6) Ocean View + Savannah (K-6) + Westminster (K-8)
For more information call UNIFIED DISTRICTS Brea-Olinda: (714) 990-7824 Capistrano: (714) 489-7210 Garden Grove: (714) 663-6111 Irvine: 714) 651-0444 Laguna Beach: (714) 497-7700 Los Alamitos: (310) 430-1021 ext. 414 Newport Mesa: (714) 760-3284 Orange: (714) 997-6131 Placentia-Yorba Linda: (714) 966-2550 Saddleback Valley: (714) 580-3200 Santa Ana: (714) 558-5512 Tustin: (714) 730-7341 HIGH SCHOOL DISTRICTS Anaheim Union: (714) 999-3501 Fullerton Joint Union: (714) 671-4333 Huntington Beach Union: (714) 964-3339 ext. 4200 ELEMENTARY SCHOOL DISTRICTS Anaheim City (K-6): (714) 535-6001 ext. 222 Buena Park (K-8): (714) 522-8412 ext. 36 Centralia (K-6): (714) 228-3131 Cypress (K-6): (714) 220-6911 Fountain Valley (K-8): (714) 843-3255 Fullerton (K-8): (714) 843-3255 Huntington Beach City (K-8): (714) 964-8888 ext. 510 La Habra (K-8): (310) 690-2305 Lowell Joint School (K-8): (714) 870-0711 Magnolia (K-6): (714) 761-5533 Ocean View: (714) 847-2551 ext. 1310 Savannah (K-6): (714) 236-3800 Westminster (K-8): (714) 894-7311 ext. 200 ++ Banned inside only
* Not necessarily all schools
** Recommendations only
*** Los Alamitos High only
**** Depicting alcohol, cigarettes, drugs or profanity
***** Individual schools may have stricter rules
****** Only two schools in OC
Sources: Individual districts
Researched by MARTIN MILLER and JODI WILGOREN/Los Angeles Times
Crossing the Dress Code Line
A selection of items that are accepted in some schools but banned in others:
Bandanna is Boy Scout staple turned gang symbol
Earrings should be seen, not heard
Raiders gear should be left at the stadium
Cutoffs are OK for the beach, but banned in Westminster
Combat boots also get the boot in Capistrano
Hats off in most districts, unless boosting school teams
T-shirts depicting drugs, alcohol, cigarettes or profanity are out
Pendleton, the pricey work shirt, is out in Capistrano Unified
Belts with a big buckle get the boot
Wallets are fine, but chains are over the line
Thongs be gone
Researched by JODI WILGOREN and ROSE APODACA / Los Angeles Times
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