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Seeking Redress

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Delivering a fashion statement, a group of Ventura High School students Monday rallied against the school’s revamped dress code, saying it is sexist, arbitrarily enforced and absent of any educational value.

Armed with a petition bearing about 200 signatures, a dozen youngsters marched into the school office to press their concerns, wearing spaghetti-strap blouses, pants without hems or other fashion faux pas outlawed by the more rigorous guidelines.

“Some of the things on here are just insane,” said 17-year-old senior Bill Lascher, who spearheaded the anti-dress-code campaign. “The whole point was to limit classroom distractions, but all it has done is to make for many more distractions.”

At the urging of parents and teachers, Ventura High officials reworked the dress code last school year and began enforcing the new rules on the first day of classes.

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The general guidelines are handed down by the school board, Principal Larry Emrich explained. They are aimed at limiting classroom distractions while ensuring that students adhere to minimum standards of good taste.

“One of our obligations is to prepare you for the real world, and in the real world you have to dress to certain standards,” Emrich told the protesters. “If you don’t like that, I’m sorry. But you are going to find, not only in high school but the rest of your lives, that things are not always equal or fair.”

Student attire has become a growing concern across Ventura County and the state.

In recent years, school districts have adopted tough dress standards or have circumvented the debate altogether by enacting policies that require students to wear uniforms.

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In Los Angeles County, for example, more than 200 schools have adopted voluntary uniform policies. And in Long Beach, educators reported a dramatic decrease in suspensions and fights when they shifted from a voluntary policy to a mandatory one.

Although there continues to be minimal support for school uniforms in the Ventura Unified School District, administrators have been busy shoring up fashion guidelines.

That’s how the policy at Ventura High came to be reworked. A committee of parents, teachers, administrators and students came together last spring to create guidelines that are more specific and more easily enforced.

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The result is a policy that bans dresses, blouses or shirts with straps less than 1-inch wide. All undergarments must be covered, including bra straps, slips, undershirts and boxer shorts.

No hats, hairnets or scarves are allowed. Neither is clothing that shows gang affiliations or advertises drugs, alcohol or tobacco.

The policy was sent home over the summer break so that parents and students would be well aware of the rules when they did their back-to-school shopping.

But many students say those who crafted the new guidelines haven’t been shopping lately in department stores, where the offerings are dominated by items now prohibited on campus.

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Furthermore, students said they believe the dress code is discriminatory, pointing out that most of the guidelines are aimed at female attire.

“The girls have to change their clothing because the guys are distracted. I think that’s sexist,” said 17-year-old senior Canyon Martens, who along with her twin sister, Amelia, wore a halter top and sandals that purposefully violated the dress code.

“I think there are more important things to worry about,” Canyon added. “Just spend your time on drugs and knives and stuff.”

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Students who violate the dress code are pulled out of class and forced to change into appropriate clothing. And if they don’t have any, the school provides wardrobe for them.

None of the protesters was sent home Monday to change, as administrators were willing to overlook their intentional infractions.

Emrich spent more than an hour Monday morning listening to the students’ concerns, in a wide-ranging discussion that touched on overcrowded classrooms and the lack of textbooks and other supplies.

But he said there is little he can do about the dress code.

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“It’s a legitimate issue, and I understand that,” he said. “But this is a board policy and it comes as a result of concerns expressed by parents.”

Nevertheless, students said they will continue to force the issue.

Bill Lascher said he plans to attend tonight’s school board meeting to raise the same concerns.

But he said he probably will change out of the T-shirt he wore to school Monday that was scrawled with the message, “I can’t concentrate on my education because my pants aren’t hemmed.”

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“I think the dress code needs to be abolished,” he said. “This isn’t a matter of students at this high school just wanting to wear the latest fashion trend. We feel the administration should be more focused on our education than on enforcing a dress code that infringes on our rights.”


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