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County looks into consistent school dress codes

February 25, 2003|by KATE COLEMAN

katec@herald-mail.com

You didn't have to think about your high school's dress code last week.

You had snow days - count 'em - four in a row following a Monday holiday in Washington County Public Schools.

PJs, slippers and sweats all day and all week long if you wanted.

But now you're back in school, and you can figure if you wear that crazy T-shirt or those hot new jeans and tiny top, your third-period English teacher will call you on it and send you to the office.

Maybe. Depending on the teacher, depending on the school, depending on whether or not you're a favorite and can get away with something another student might not be able to.

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In January, the Washington County Board of Education agreed to form a task force to develop a consistent dress code for all county public schools. The task force, made up of school officials, parents, teachers, business and community people, and at least two students, will have its first meeting Wednesday, Feb. 26, says Shulamit Finkelstein, the school system's executive assistant for strategic planning and community relations.

There is a sense in the community that there should be guidelines and a sense that the guidelines should be countywide, she says. The task force's goal is to have one code ready to implement throughout the system in September, she adds.

Lauren Low, 16, is a junior at Boonsboro High School. She is the student representative to the Washington County Board of Education and a member of the dress code task force.

Students want the dress code issue to be addressed, she says.

"There needs to be something uniform, especially when it comes to punishment," she says.

Alaina Rowe, 17, South Hagerstown High School senior and president of the Washington County Association of Student Councils, agrees.

"Personally, I think it's a good idea to have everything consistent in all the schools."

Dress-code problems have mostly had to do with guy's low-slung pants and their underwear showing. For girls, the length of skirts and shorts has been a problem, as have questions of what constitutes a tank top, sleeveless shirt or spaghetti straps.

Bandanas have been at issue this year, Alaina says. Hats are prohibited at South High, and that includes triangular headcoverings and bandanas, Alaina says. But she says she was asked to remove a headband - made from a folded bandana. Jackets are prohibited, and she understands the safety issue involved, but says her school can be cold.

Stephanie Venczak, 16, a 10th-grader at Smithsburg High School, walked with her brother at Valley Mall last Friday.

She was dressed neatly, a band of what looked like a white ribbed undershirt peeking out from beneath her red T-shirt, just meeting her hip-grazing navy jeans. A red zippered sweatshirt topped off the outfit, something she says she could wear to school without a problem.

Her careful makeup was subtly applied, and her hair, in a range of colors, featured criss-crossing sections and face-framing curls.

Trouble with the dress code at her high school comes when kids wear inappropriate T-shirts, shirts with beer logos, "naked chicks," spaghetti straps, she says. Showing your midriff also can be a problem.

"Some people get away with stuff," she says.

Stephanie's brother, Matt Venczak, 17, a senior at Washington County Technical High School, says he can wear anything he wants.

Girls at his school get grief for showing their midriffs or wearing shirts that are low-cut.

Getting in trouble depends on if you're difficult or not, he says.

Ashley Metzger, a 17-year-old Boonsboro High School senior, shopped at Valley Mall Friday with a couple of friends.

She bought a simple black knit shirt and planned to wear it to go dancing that evening. The top did not have spaghetti straps, nor was it low-cut or so short that bare belly would be revealed. It would probably meet dress-code criteria should she wear it to school.

"As long as you look decent and classy, you're fine," she says.

"I think there should be some guidelines," says Danielle Smith, 16, a junior at Boonsboro High. Yet she might get in trouble if she wore to school the shirt she had on at the mall. It's message: "Kiss my shamrock" on the front; "Kiss Me I'm Irish" on the back.

Some people get sent to the office and required to change into an acceptable alternative that's there for just that purpose, she says.

Others get away with wearing spaghetti straps and low-cut tops, Ashley says.

"Some teachers take it more seriously," says Lynnae Messner, 16, a 10th-grader at Boonsboro.

Length of shorts is an issue Ashley resolves by refusing to wear them. "I can't find any decent shorts," she says.

"It might be better to have uniforms," Danielle says. "It might make it easier," she says, because now there are so many rules.

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