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District to tighten dress code

Students will have to say goodbye to saggy, baggy pants and bare midriffs when schools revise the rules.

By JAMES THORNER, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 11, 2003

Goodbye bare midriffs and exposed underwear. Farewell tank tops and muscle shirts. So long hats and miniskirts.

In an attempt to focus young minds less on fashion and more on learning, the Pasco County school district plans to tighten and clarify its dress code for middle and high school students.

A host of sexually explicit and implicit clothing has been banned since the dress policy was overhauled three years ago, but room exists for students to wriggle free via loopholes in the rules.

"We want to simplify the code and make it perfectly understood by all parties and consistently applied," said Albert Bashaw, the district's director of student services.

Much of the change takes in what shirts are permissible. Muscle shirts, tank tops and other sleeveless garments are out. So are shirts that dip below a "line formed between the right and left armpit" and those that expose the midriff.

"That has to do with boys' biceps and the cleavage of the girls," Bashaw said. "Those types of shirts may be okay at the beach and on athletic fields but they're not appropriate in school."

As for pants, the policy reiterates they must be worn securely at the waist but adds a sentence reading, "no abdomen skin or underwear is to be exposed." It's meant to address a trend, inspired by the rap music industry, to wear pants several sizes too large.

The current policy on skirts demands they be "modest length" and no shorter than a girl's finger tip length when her hands drop to her sides. The new policy requires skirts hang no higher than 4 inches above the knee.

One of the biggest changes concerns hats. Up to now, they were banned from school buildings unless worn for school activities or medical or religious reasons. Those exceptions still stand, but the revised rules ban hats even outdoors on school property.

"We're not going to tell the football team you can't wear a helmet and the baseball team you can't wear a hat," Bashaw said.

The hat rule recently nipped Land O'Lakes High School student Amanda Farina, suspended for three days from school for wearing a cap despite warnings to remove it.

Standing in front of school Thursday, Amanda and a couple friends argued the dress code is unevenly enforced. They have been asked to cover bare torsos while other girls expose bellies without drawing comment, they said.

"It doesn't really matter. It's just school," Amanda said of the code. "But there's a lot of people who break the code, and they just don't always enforce it."

One reason to update the policy is to help correct such seeming inconsistencies, Bashaw said. For months, a task force and dress code subcommittee have raked through the rules. Most changes were suggested by principals of the district's 25 middle and high schools.

Enforcement of the old policy, through its occasional vagueness, often consumed too much of a principal's time. Schools usually resort to discipline only if a student refuses to change.

"It's one thing to put in a policy and another to tell a young lady she's not dressed properly and when she complains, to call her parents," Bashaw said.

If you go

The School Board will consider the dress code changes at its next meeting at 6 p.m. April 22 at the administrative offices on U.S. 41 in Land O'Lakes. Only after a second hearing on May 20 will the board vote on the rules.

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