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LOS ANGELES

Wrinkles Seen in Dress Policy

September 11, 2002|DAVID PIERSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The idea seemed simple enough: Students should dress for success, not as though they're going to a nightclub.

But a week after Granada Hills High's dress code was instituted to weed out inappropriate attire, some parents and students contend that school officials are inappropriately enforcing the policy.

Some students said they were told to bend over for school administrators to see if their shirts still touched the top of their pants. Other students said they were asked to raise their arms to see how far their tops rode up. Girls showing too much cleavage, midriff or leg were sent to detention. Boys with overly baggy pants found themselves in violation. One girl contacted the American Civil Liberties Union to see if any civil rights had been violated.

Granada Hills Principal Brian Bauer said the policy, a reaction to the fashions inspired by pop stars such as Britney Spears, was never intended to humiliate students, adding that the alleged incident in which a girl was asked to bend over for a female administrator was never corroborated.

Bauer said teachers and administrators were told not to ask students to bend over, but instead encouraged them to talk to students privately about dress or body appearance issues.

But some parents were still concerned about the way the policy was being enforced. "It's ridiculous," said Jim Govea, whose 17-year-old daughter was given detention for revealing too much skin at her waist. "You have male teachers going up and down the school looking at these girls. Who knows what's in their heads?"Other parents, like Sonja Eddings Brown, found the dress code necessary. Brown is a member of the school's community council that spent eight months drawing up the policy. "Girls were coming to school in halter tops with short, short skirts and not even any underwear," she said. "It wasn't hygienic and it wasn't respectful or safe."

Granada Hills High, known for its strong academic standing, followed other district schools by banning such items as tube tops, spaghetti straps, visible cleavage or underwear, baggy pants, pocket chains, studded jewelry and hats that were not official school caps.

Twelfth-grader Crystal Mahoney said she thought she knew what to expect when she and her parents received a letter over the summer with drawings depicting dress code violations. But she said she was mortified when, in front of a group of students in the detention room last week, she was told to bend over by a female staff member to determine how short her shirt was.

"We're not supposed to wear sexy clothes to school," said the 17-year-old cheerleader, who did not tell administrators about the incident. "But I became more of a sexual object when I had to bend over. It's contradictory."

The ACLU of Southern California said it is looking into the dress policy following a student's complaint.

"We're very concerned about what we heard if these reports appear to be true," said Peter Eliasberg, managing attorney with the ACLU. "It could be a gross violation of law and an invasion of privacy."

Linda Guthrie, secondary vice president of United Teachers-Los Angeles, said she agrees with the dress code, but "teachers should not be fashion police."

The Los Angeles Unified School District has no uniform dress code, but most campuses have developed their own, mainly to prohibit the wearing of gang colors. But with new fashions come new rules.

"It's hard right now," said Kitty Dustin, an assistant principal at Eagle Rock High School, which recently added new rules about midriff exposure. "Most girls are just buying current styles. Also, a lot of times, students don't look the same way at school as when they left home. By midday, it's 90 degrees and the tank tops are out."

On the first day of school last week, 84 Granada Hills students were given detention for violating the dress policy. On the second day, the number dropped to 65, and by Tuesday morning, only four students were found in violation. Bauer said the overwhelming majority were girls.

When a violation is found, parent volunteers call the student's parents, asking them to bring in different clothes or take their child home. If the parent does neither, the student is given a T-shirt that reads "GHHS/Dressed for Success" to wear.

"It's going to be difficult to go out and replace clothes," said Rebecca Olkowski, who drove to school last week to take her daughter, Kazia, 15, a different skirt, only to have it rejected as too short. "When I was in [high] school in the 1970s, we wore mini-skirts, fishnet stockings and go-go boots."

School officials said that the majority of parents support the new rules.

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