What not to wear

Monday, August 14, 2006

Hats are off, midriffs are covered and cut-offs are cut out.

High school principal Dr. Mike Cowan spends part of his summers looking at the latest teenage fashions.

The Cape Girardeau Central High School principal doesn't admire such fashion; he just wants to know before the start of the school year what popular fashions will put students in violation of the school dress code. As he judges it, a lot of store-bought clothes won't pass muster.

"The challenges are going to be thin straps for the girls especially and low-cut blouses. The shorts are much shorter this time around for the young ladies," Cowan said.

Oversized, loose-fitting clothes have been popular with male students. But times are changing, he said. "They are wearing tighter-fitting garments again," Cowan said.

From left Karrie Moll, Carsen Bahn, Andy Billmeyer and Ross McLeod show off fashion don'ts for this school year. (Photo illustration by Diane L. Wilson and Katie A. Davis)

Jackson High School principal Rick McClard agreed with Cowan that what teenagers view as stylish often conflicts with school rules.

While parents may find it difficult in today's market to find name-brand clothes that will meet the dress code, he said, most like the dress code.

School dress codes prohibit students from going to class in various kinds of attire that area school officials say might be a distraction. Short shirts that expose the midriff. Sagging pants. T-shirts promoting alcohol, tobacco or drugs. All hats inside school buildings.

Schools also have rules about body piercings. Parochial schools at most will allow pierced ears. Public schools are less restrictive.

But there are limits. Central High School requires body jewelry and piercings to be flush to the body and prohibits piercings in and around the mouth. Those restrictions were added a few years ago as body piercings became more popular.

At Jackson High School, students are told to remove body jewelry if it becomes a distraction or a safety issue. But it hasn't been a major problem, McClard said.

In recent years, schools also have banned students' from using cell phones during school hours.

Dress-code violations are most prevalent at the start of every school year, Cowan said. Some students will be sent home to change clothes when classes start at Central High School today, he said. School officials typically will offer students school T-shirts to cover bare midriffs.

"The first couple of weeks we have multiple conversations with students about what is modest dress," he said.

At a student orientation recently, student leaders summed up the dress code. "Skin is so not in," they told freshmen at a school assembly.

Bare midriffs are a common problem at Jackson High School. "We constantly are having to deal with that," McClard said.

Jackson's dress code specifically bars students from wearing clothes that show off any part of their underwear.

"We don't want to see their undergarments. That was a trend a few years ago where students would wear trousers down to their knees." he said.

At Scott City High School, short shorts and spaghetti straps are common violations with girls. With boys, the biggest problem is T-shirts with inappropriate logos.

"We are just trying to teach our students to dress appropriately," said high school principal Kerry Thompson.

At area parochial schools, administrators say school uniforms eliminate many of the dress-code problems that confront their counterparts at public schools.

"As an administrator, when you don't have a very specific uniform or dress code you play dress-code police all day," said Janice Margrabe, who heads Eagle Ridge Christian School.

Students at the small, parochial school wear khaki or navy blue shorts or pants and polo shirts. On Monday, they have a more formal dress code including ties for the boys and skirts or jumpers for the girls.

Margrabe said a school uniform makes it easier for students to get dressed in the morning. It also eliminates the possibility of poor students being teased for their attire.

"It puts everybody kind of on equal playing field," she said.

Margrabe has graduated a son and daughter from the school. Another son and another daughter still attend the school.

"Overall, it's a cost-saver" for parents, Margrabe said of the dress code. "Five days a week, you know what they are going to wear."

At Notre Dame Regional High School, students must wear polo or oxford shirts with school logos and black, navy blue or khaki pants and skirts.

Brother David Migliorino, principal, said students have a wide range of shirt colors. "There is every color that God ever created," he said.

Students, he said, have embraced the dress code.

Student Haley Bohnert likes the school uniform. "Nobody has any cooler clothes than anybody else," she said.

Nationwide, some public schools have embraced school uniforms. The Cairo, Ill., School District officials say they plan to consider the idea.

Cowan said he's even wondered if school uniforms might be a good idea at Central High School. He said the issue could come up again in the future but cautioned that such a move would first require considerable discussion in the school community and the support of top officials in the school district.

For now, Cowan is content with the current dress code.

Cape Central Student Senate president and high school senior Emily Hiett students are well-versed in the dress code by the time they are juniors. "Pretty much, juniors and seniors don't get in trouble for the dress code," she said.

Karri Moll, a Central High senior, said skirts are supposed to extend to the tips of the fingers when girls' hands are at their sides.

Showing off sports bras or other undergarments is unacceptable. Also not permitted is the wearing of baggy coats from class to class. Coats are supposed to be stored in students' lockers.

Students who repeatedly violate the dress code face suspensions, Cowan said.

"There are those students who will refuse to comply because they feel it is a violation of their personal expression," he said. "At some point, it ceases to be a dress-code violation and becomes insubordination."

Some rules may seem overstated, but Central Junior High School principal Roy Merideth said students can show up to school in all manner of attire.

"We have had kids show up in pajamas," he said. "It is crazy."


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