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STUDENTS : DRESS CODES : Wearer Beware : Oxnard Schools Put New Regulations Into Effect; Officials Say That in Some Cases What Students Wear Can Make a Difference

May 03, 1990|MAJA RADEVICH

We were in the middle of a discussion of gang involvement and drug sales when the Oxnard elementary school principal was handed an important message. Two students had been apprehended and were being detained in her office following eyewitness reports that the two were involved in . . .

" . . . a sand fight," said Connie Hershkowitz, reading the message. "Well, around here, sand fights are about as big of a problem as we get."

According to Hershkowitz, principal at Dennis McKinna Elementary School, a large number of Oxnard students are not involved with gangs or drugs. But unnerved by Oxnard's proximity to Los Angeles and what is perceived as the big city's unwholesome influence, the elementary school district has passed a dress code banning garments symbolizing gang affiliation or drug or alcohol use. Now, if problems arise, a policy will already be in place.

The 12,000 district students at 14 elementary and two junior high schools are also prohibited from wearing clothing displaying slogans considered profane, that encourage prejudice, or clothing that is considered inappropriately revealing.

The new dress code is 1 week old, but Hershkowitz said the faculty at McKinna has been enforcing its own version of "common-sense rules" of dress for years. If a child wore something considered inappropriate, he or she was told never to wear the offending garment again, Hershkowitz said. "None of the students or parents ever complained about it."

Carlos Quintero, 10, remembered the day he came to class wearing a T-shirt with a Budweiser beer logo. "My teacher told me to go to the bathroom and turn it inside-out," he said. "But that's OK, I didn't mind. I guess teachers don't like that kind of stuff."

The adults had spent hours writing and revising and approving the dress policy. But, like Carlos, the other children interviewed at McKinna seemed just as content with their teachers' original common-sense rules.

"A girl shouldn't wear a skirt that's too short because that's bad," said Eunice Cornado, 7. "Yeah, the teacher should tell her to put on something else," added Vanessa Rodriguez, also 7. But not ones to follow random rules, the girls said they would not stop wearing ponytails if they were suddenly banned. A rule like that, they said, just wouldn't make any sense.

Braheim Wells, 10, on the other hand, is all for girls wearing short skirts. "Yeah, yeah, yeah, I like them," he said with a big grin. Instead of prohibiting the skirts, he thinks the policy should be changed to ban makeup instead. His friend Omar Almaguer, 10, said: "Some of the girls here wear it. It's gross."

Although the group of fourth-graders were quick to express opinions on skirts and cosmetics, they were a little hesitant about discussing gang clothes and gang influences on campus. "If our names are in the newspaper maybe someone won't like what we said. And maybe they'll try to beat us up or something," one of the boys said. Although most of the kids said they weren't really frightened by the prospect, they still opted to remain anonymous.

"The gangs here aren't as mean as the ones in L.A.," one fourth-grader said. "They leave you alone unless you do something wrong." According to the group, a boy at school called an area gang a derogatory name and was hit by one of its members. "But he deserved it," said another boy. "He should have known better."

"Shhh, stop talking so much," a friend interrupted. "Someone might hear you. You'll get in trouble."

Although Hershkowitz is aware that such conversations take place among students, she said she doesn't consider it a sign of big trouble. "Gangs seem glamorous and kids like to talk about them," she said. "They may hear of something that happened in L.A. and by the time it gets around school it sounds as if it happened here. Also, what they often refer to as 'gangs' isn't what we would call a gang."

A few students, she said, imitate gang members and wear the associated clothing in order to look tough, or so they can be part of an in-crowd. The dress code is an attempt to decrease this type of role playing and if it works as planned, the current glamour associated with gangs will be out of sight and out of mind.

What Students Can't Wear

Oxnard elementary school students are prohibited from wearing the following items:

* Clothing, head cover, jewelry, emblem, badge, symbol, colored bandanna or sash that represents affiliation with a gang.

* Any article that advocates, displays, illustrates or encourages the use of drugs or alcohol or both.

* Garments that have patches, stenciled slogans, writing or other symbols affixed to them that are lewd or profane or advocate racial, ethnic or religious prejudice.

* Halter tops, bare midriffs, skirts or attire that expose any portion of a student's undergarments or body areas that are normally covered.

* Metal accessories that present a health or safety hazard.

Students appearing on campus in violation of the dress code will be referred to an administrator. Willful or continuous violations can result in suspension or expulsion.

If a student questions the prohibition of an item, he or she can appeal to the site administrator. If not satisfied with that decision, the student can appeal to the superintendent or his designee.

But during the appeal process, the student cannot wear the article in question.

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