Students protest dress code

January 20, 1997


Staff Writer

Wearing frayed jeans and dying your hair purple doesn't mean you're a bad kid, said Williamsport High School junior Kris Fischer.

But both will get you in trouble under the school's strictly enforced student dress code, said Fischer, who believes the dress code is unnecessarily restrictive and infringes on the rights he's been guaranteed by Washington County Board of Education policy.

"I have pants that are declared disruptive because they're frayed and have some patches sewn onto them, and I'm not allowed to dye my hair," said Fischer, 16.


He said he believes the language in the school board's "Students' Rights and Responsibilities" policy forbids his school from banning hair dye and patches that make political statements.

He and others will protest the dress code after classes Friday afternoon at the school board's central office, said Fischer.

He said school-level complaints haven't been able to sway Principal James Hardin.

The 2 p.m. protest is being organized by the Western Maryland Anarchists Collective (W.M.A.C.), a group comprised mostly of area high school and college students, said member John Kautz, who attends Hagerstown Junior College.

It's a matter of principle for Kautz, who said the nonviolent group's aim is to educate local people about various forms of discrimination, animal rights and other freedom-oriented issues.

"We live in Hagerstown. It's like a big town with a small mind," he said. "I think the dress code adds to the close-mindedness. They're promoting it's wrong to be an individual."

Individuality isn't the issue, said Hardin. The student dress code - outlined in the school's student handbook - is meant to ensure students' health, safety and a positive learning environment, he said.

For example, very large safety pins and thick chains are banned because they can be used as weapons, Hardin said. Sandals without heel straps are not allowed because they can increase a student's risk of tripping.

Health and safety aren't the only factors in the dress code, which lists "torn, holey, frayed or cut-off clothing" and "shorts or skirts above fingertip length" under examples of inappropriate dress.

The way Hardin sees it, his school is a business for learning and students should dress appropriately for the workplace and not attract undue attention.

While not specifically mentioned in the dress code's examples, hair dyed "extreme colors" is covered under "personal attire that may create disruption to the educational process," he said.

Most students have no problem with the dress code, said Hardin, who said many of the complaints about inappropriate clothing come from students.

"The great majority of students think we're fair and take a lot of pride in their appearance," he said. "We have some pretty good standards here. We don't want the tail wagging the whole dog."

As Fischer sees it, the dress code and its enforcement have disrupted the school.

"My friends have been threatened because of the way they dress, and there have been fights because people dress differently," he said.

School principals have a great deal of latitude in interpreting the school board's policy on dress to meet the needs of their schools, said William McKinley, director of secondary education.

Dress code examples

The following are examples of inappropriate dress listed in the Williamsport High School student handbook:

  • Sandals without heel straps.
  • Outdoor apparel such as hats, bandanas, sunglasses.
  • Offensive clothing relating to suggestive sexual allusions, obscene language, alcohol, drugs or any illegal substance.
  • Undergarments worn as outerwear.
  • Torn, holey, frayed or cut-off clothing.
  • Shorts or skirts above fingertip length.
  • Clothing that is too tight, that exposes torso, or that is see-through. Midriff cannot be exposed.

Source: Williamsport High School student handbook

The Herald-Mail Articles