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Frustrated over fads

Pants that sag to the knees, skimpy skirts and bare midriffs, cell phones and pagers are all the rage among teenagers determined to fit in. Administrators in Oklahoma are afraid that a tiny provision in the state's voluminous school improvement law could undermine their efforts to ban such fads in the classroom.

The law, which took effect July 1, states that school boards can adopt dress codes, but that any rules shall "not censure the political opinions of the students or unreasonably interfere with common clothing fads."

Districts might as well abandon their dress codes altogether, said Randall K. Raburn, the executive director of the Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Administration, one of several education groups asking the legislature to repeal the measure during its upcoming session, which begins Feb. 7.

"Our biggest [dress-related] problems are common clothing fads," Mr. Randall said. "What kind of dress code could you have that didn't interfere with those?"

More conscious of student safety than fashion, many districts in Oklahoma, as well as elsewhere in the country, have set broad dress codes to prevent students from wearing apparel that might be disruptive, conceal weapons, or be identified with a particular clique or gang. Some districts, such as Oklahoma City, have drafted much more specific guidelines, which offer a glimpse into the range of fashions students might find acceptable. In addition to baggy pants and revealing clothing, the district's policy bans spandex sportswear and "pajama and bedtime wear, including house shoes."

The new statute, Mr. Randall said, could open districts up to lawsuits.

"We already have the power to adopt dress codes. We already have a number of federal court decisions and federal and state laws dealing with this issue," he said. "Most districts have a policy already. This only seems to muddy the water."

—Kathleen Kennedy Manzo

Vol. 19, Issue 19, Page 21

Published in Print: January 19, 2000, as State Journal

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