Cracking the code

Students getting comfortable with rules of dress

Students getting comfortable with rules of dress

February 17, 2004|by KATE COLEMAN

Washington County Public Schools' dress code was approved by the Board of Education last June and went into effect at the beginning of the school term in August. The systemwide code prohibits clothes such as revealing tops, baggy pants, chained accessories, hats and bandannas.

But local students are not the only ones who have to watch what they wear.

In France last week, the lower house of parliament approved a bill banning religious apparel - Islamic women's head scarves, Jewish skullcaps and large Christian crosses - from public schools. Little opposition is expected in the senate, where the measure goes early next month, according to a Feb. 14 Associated Press story.

A more stringent dress code for Washington County employees recently was approved by the County Commissioners. Appropriate business attire is outlined, and some things - spandex, clothes that do not cover the midriff area and clothing with sexually suggestive slogans - are among banned attire.


Employees can dress in business casual clothing on Fridays, said Human Resources Director David Hankinson.

Last Friday, Hankinson said he was wearing black pants, a tan shirt, no tie and his Pittsburgh Pirates jacket.

"Life is good," he laughed.

While other parts of the world deal with dress code changes, Washington County students are fairly accustomed to the rules.

Amy Cornelius, 15, a sophomore at North Hagerstown High School, hasn't been aware of any big problems with the new dress code.

"Most teachers don't really care, unless it's really ridiculous," she said.

It's been too cold for people to wear midriff-baring T-shirts, something she doesn't wear anyway.

"I'm not comfortable with my stomach hanging out," she said.

Amy Belliotti, 13, a Western Heights Middle School eighth-grader, doesn't think the new code has been a problem. She's seen a few kids dressed in inappropriate "belly" shirts, but they don't get caught.

Jessica Fonferek, 17, is an 11th-grade graphic communications student at Washington County Technical High School. She got in trouble for wearing backless shoes, but she agrees with many of the code's provisions. Girls' bra straps aren't supposed to show, and spaghetti-strap shirts, which weren't banned during her first two years of high school, are prohibited.

Girls who wear clothes that are too revealing look like they don't have class, Jessica said.

Jessica shopped at Valley Mall with her friend, Chevelle Cook, 17, a 12th-grader at the technical high school. Chevelle and her fellow cosmetology students are allowed to wear backless shoes "for comfort," she said. She doesn't like the look she's seen some girls get away with - black bras under white or light-colored shirts. She agrees with prohibitions against too baggy pants and clothes that are too tight. "It's like they don't care about their bodies," she said.

Justin Thompson, 15, a 10th-grader at Williamsport High School, isn't much affected by the new dress code. A lot of the rules apply mostly to girls, he said. He appreciates the ban on "belly" shirts. Some would bare midriffs he doesn't want to see.

Stephen Picone, 17, a Williamsport High School junior, was at the mall with Justin.

He agreed that the policy affects girls' attire more than guys. "They can't be as flashy," he said.

But he knows guys who have had problems with T-shirts with pictures considered inappropriate. They have to turn their shirts inside out. He added that it makes no sense to spend $60 on a pair of jeans and have them drag on the floor.

Kristen Burke, 17, on a break from her job at a mall department store, is a North Hagerstown High School 11th-grader.

She's had no problems with the new code. "I don't wear inappropriate clothes at school," she said.

Kristen agrees with the rule prohibiting chains.

North Hagerstown High School Principal Robert T. "Bo" Myers said he thinks things are OK with the new dress code.

Kids, for the most part, are appropriately dressed. Where something has come up, teachers and administrators have handled it appropriately and the kids have responded, he says. Nobody has been suspended for dress code infractions.

"We haven't had any problems. Our kids are responding well," Myers said.

Amy Cornelius said she thinks shorts - which have to be long enough to cover the mid-thighs when seated and extend to the fingertips when standing - are the biggest issue. She didn't want to wear shorts on warm days last fall because she didn't want to deal with it.

"I think it will be more of a problem in spring," she said, adding that she plans to take the risk.

Early in the school year, there were specific questions about clothing not covered in the dress code, but there haven't been any big problems, said Shulamit Finkelstein, the school system's executive assistant for strategic planning and board liaison for community relations. The countywide code allows principals discretion in their individual schools. Conversation and dialogue between the schools and community members always is encouraged, she said.

A formal survey and poll on the code will be conducted in the spring, Finkelstein said.

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