Dress code gets OK

July 23, 2003|by PEPPER BALLARD

The Washington County Board of Education on Tuesday approved by a 7-0 vote a school systemwide dress code that bans such items as revealing clothing, most headgear and spiked jewelry.

Shulamit Finkelstein, co-chair of the Dress Code Task Force, said that 82 percent of those who responded to the first reading of the proposed systemwide code were in favor of the restrictions. Thirteen percent of the respondents felt that the proposed dress code infringed on their freedom of expression, and four percent said they would like to see school uniforms.

Finkelstein, who is the Washington County Public Schools executive assistant for strategic planning and board and community relations, said that in light of the positive feedback, no major changes were made between the first and final readings.


Schools Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan said she believes students get the opportunity to express themselves through art, English and other classes, and through extracurricular activities at their schools.

She said it is the School Board's responsibility to balance students' rights against their responsibilities.

Brian Williamson, the new student member on the School Board, said he approves of the systemwide code and does not feel it infringes on student rights.

"Students realize that expression doesn't have to be shown on their shirt or their back," said Williamson, who will be a junior at North Hagerstown High School this fall.

He said although students appreciate the fact that there will be a consistent dress code, his concern is that the code might not be consistently enforced.

Evelyn Williams, co-chair of the Dress Code Task Force and assistant principal at E. Russell Hicks Middle School, said the public feedback included some concern over a broad rule banning shoes that cause a safety risk. She said that rule will be enforced at the discretion of each school's administration.

School Board member W. Princeton Young said he would like to know how administrators will be monitored to see that the code is enforced fairly in all schools.

"We can't be fearful to put out a policy by fearing the enforcement of the policy," Morgan said.

The dress code carries consequences for those who violate it. On a student's first offense, he or she will review the student handbook with an administrator or teacher and be required to adjust or change his or her clothes. After the initial offenses, students will be disciplined under the School Board's discipline policies and procedures.

The dress code is to apply to all school activities during the school day, except for legitimate reasons such as a student's medical condition, religious practices or involvement in specialized classes or activities.

The quest for a systemwide code began with the 1999-2000 Citizens Advisory Council. That panel distributed "The Appropriate School Dress Survey," which questioned students, parents, community members, business people and school system staff. As a result of that survey, a Superintendent's Advisory Council was formed.

Members of the Washington County Association of Student Councils reviewed various school dress codes, read about uniforms and gathered input from their peers before drafting their own codes.

In January, the Dress Code Task Force began to study and develop a systemwide policy. A draft of the proposed code was sent out to about 100 community members for their input and about 80 percent approved the draft at that time, Finkelstein has said.

The first reading of the code was approved in June.

Here are highlights of the systemwide dress code approved by the Washington County Board of Education Tuesday night for Washington County Public Schools students:


  • Hats and bandannas

  • Visors and sunglasses

  • Shirts that do not cover the entire back, shoulders and midriff area, and that expose undergarments

  • See-through shirts

  • Shirts that show cleavage

  • Skirts, dresses or shorts that do not cover the mid-thighs when seated or do not extend to the fingertips when standing

  • Muscle shirts and tank tops because they are considered undergarments. Shirts must be worn over or under them.

  • Pants that do not cover undergarments at all times

  • Pants that are excessively baggy and fall off the hips

  • Pants that are excessively long and drag on the floor

  • Bare feet

  • Jewelry or accessories that can be used as or perceived to be weapons, such as chokers, rings or bracelets with spikes or chains

  • Clothes that make reference to profanity, drugs, alcohol, tobacco or violence, or bear sexual messages

  • Clothes with words or symbols on them that offend, demean or promote hatred toward an identifiable person or group
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