NORWALK — Officials in the Norwalk-La Mirada Unified School District are re-examining an 8-year-old clothing and grooming policy for ways to limit gang dress to reduce gang confrontations at school.
The officials hope a stricter dress code will prevent students from identifying one another as gang members on their way to and from school and in classrooms.
The district's dress code requires students to be neat, clean and appropriately dressed for school activities. The changes under consideration would ban specific types of clothing associated with area gangs. Although gang fashion varies, one common style is the hair net or bandana, oversized pants, and untucked shirt with only the top button buttoned. The other extreme is black shoes, carefully ironed pants and a white T-shirt.
The school board study arose after six gang-related killings occurred in the Norwalk area in recent months, including one that claimed the life of a 12-year-old boy in late August.
Norwalk had about 2,000 gang members, according to a Sheriff's Department estimate last year.
All schools in the district already have some form of dress guidelines, said Chris Roubidoux, director of elementary education. Some of them, for example, prohibit the use of caps and hair nets.
At a board meeting Monday, members suggested ways to focus the study. President William A. White suggested helping families adjust to the new look expected of their children. Board member Lupe Flores-McClintock requested information on other school districts that have dress codes, and their effectiveness.
More than a year ago, the ABC Unified School District approved a dress code to protect students from gangs both on and off school grounds. The Long Beach Unified School District also has restrictions on gang attire.
But Elias Galvan, director of secondary education in the Norwalk-La Mirada district, cautioned that a dress code only "begins to address the problem" of gang violence. "Communicating with youngsters and their parents is the answer."
Discussion with the school board, staff, parents and the community is expected to continue through this month, and the board is expected to draft a policy in November. The code, if approved, would take effect next year.
In other action, David Plaza spoke on the Norwalk Alternatives to Gangs Program, a new 15-week curriculum geared to fourth-graders. Plaza, who will teach the program, said research has shown the fourth grade to be the most vulnerable age when it comes to gang influence. "By the fifth and sixth grade, (they have) already experimented with gangs and drugs," he added.
The program is due to start in Moffitt, Nottingham and Edmondson elementary schools the week of Oct. 22.
Also discussed was a drug and alcohol prevention program for fourth-graders that is due to go to the classrooms in January.