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Schools may relax rules on hair

The district also proposes the conduct code allow cell phones and other devices, if they're turned off.

By STEPHEN HEGARTY, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 15, 2002

The district also proposes the conduct code allow cell phones and other devices, if they're turned off.

LARGO -- Pinellas County students with a fondness for cell phones and purple hair are going to like some of the changes proposed for the Code of Student Conduct for the next school year.

The school district has rewritten the document that tells students what they can and cannot do, and some changes are significant departures from the status quo. In some cases, it also marks the end of an era during which school officials spent an inordinate amount of time scrutinizing students' appearances.

An example: The current code prohibits "hairstyles and colors" that are "disruptive to the school environment." In the revised code, specific references to hair are removed altogether.

"Remember those days when we used to get all upset about a kid coming to school with blue hair?" said board member Lee Benjamin. "Well, it's not a safety issue, and legally we can't really do anything about it.

"When I was a principal (in the mid '70s), it seems like we spent all our time trying to find kids whose hair was below the ear lobe."

The campus tension over hairstyles didn't end in the 1970s. Earlier this school year, a Hillsborough County teacher was disciplined and an aide resigned after they were accused of helping to forcibly cut a student's long fluffy Afro.

"We have to look beyond the green and purple hair and focus on getting kids in school and keeping them there," said board member Jane Gallucci.

The proposed changes were discussed in a workshop on Tuesday. The School Board is scheduled to vote on the changes at its June 4 meeting.

Many of the changes simply attempt to make the document more user-friendly so there are fewer misunderstandings with parents and students.

Others are a matter of keeping up with the times.

The prohibition against carrying cell phones on campus has been eliminated, a change spurred by parental concerns about safety and the number of students carrying them. But that doesn't mean students can use them in class. The new rule permits possession but not use of devices such as cell phones, CD players, radios, MP3 players and even mini-televisions.

"You can have them; you just can't have them on," said School Board attorney John Bowen.

Beepers and pagers still are outlawed.

The rules on footwear have been revised to specifically outlaw roller skates, a rule that became necessary with the popularity of shoes with wheels in the soles.

Board members made it clear Tuesday that they still expect students to come to school dressed nicely. They want schools to have the option of making their own dress code more strict than the school district rules.

"I think there's a relationship between student achievement and student dress, and it's been documented," said board member Max Gessner. "Anything we can do to improve student dress. . . ."

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