HUNTINGTON BEACH : School Dress Code Also Protects Gays

One parent made the difference.

Members of the Huntington Beach Union High School District board were pondering a proposed new dress code. The proposal included a ban on clothing with words or symbols "which degrade gender, culture, religion or ethnic values."

But one Fountain Valley father, Mike Henigan, told the board Tuesday night that the code needed one more addition: a ban on clothing that carried hate messages against gays. "As the parent of a homosexual child, I urge the board . . . to protect all children," Henigan said.

The board unanimously agreed and amended the code to prohibit clothing with words or symbols degrading to gays. It was the only change board members made before adopting the sweeping new dress code, scheduled to be implemented when school begins in September.

The code covers Huntington Beach High, Marina, Edison and Ocean View high schools in Huntington Beach, and Westminster High and Fountain Valley High in those cities.

Among other things, the new dress code empowers committees at each high school in the district to make lists of prohibited "gang attire" clothing, allowing them to keep up with changing clothing styles of local gangs, the school board said.

A new state law that became effective Jan. 1 allows each high school to form "safety committees" to list and ban gang clothing. The committees consist of teachers, administrators, students and law enforcement representatives.

The school board's overall dress code suggested some items that may constitute "gang-related apparel." These included spikes, chains, baggy clothing, jewelry with gang symbols, and visible tattoos on a student's body. It will be up to each school's safety committee, however, to decide whether to adopt those suggested items.

Five high school students protested the proposed dress code during the public hearing before the board voted. Also, Dan Tsang, representing the Orange County Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, told the school board he thought the dress code might unconstitutionally restrict free speech.

Assistant Supt. John Myers, however, told the board that the code had been carefully studied by lawyers for the school district and that they had found no constitutional restrictions.

The new dress code is an update of one in place since 1987. "This new one is much more specific," Myers said.

The new code specifically lists some banned items of "sexually suggestive clothing." These include bare midriffs, tank tops, muscle shirts and "clothing which allows underwear to be exposed."

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