Dress code issues often made on case-by-case basis

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Stacy Vogel
Friday, October 5, 2007
— Some school dress code matters are easy to regulate.

No hats in school.

No visible underwear.

No shirts with swear words.

Others require a judgment call, local high school principals said.

The recent “Insane Clown Posse” controversy in Edgerton offers a prime example. Edgerton High School banned clothing representing the band after receiving a complaint last week from a staff member who said the band T-shirts offended her, according to a news release from the district.

“In keeping with our enforcement of student dress policy, we investigated and found that ICP is, indeed, a group that is misogynist (hateful toward women), racist, intolerant of gay people and promoting of violence,” the release said.

The school’s dress code prohibits clothing that is “potentially disruptive” or includes “words, images or suggestions that may be perceived as demeaning, hurtful or reinforcing of negative stereotypes of any group of people.”

About 30 students protested the decision outside the high school Monday, saying it was unfair to ban clothing from one band without looking at all bands.

But such issues have to be handled on a case-by-case basis, said Mike Kuehne, principal of Craig High School in Janesville. Often, administrators don’t know what a particular image or logo means until someone brings it to their attention.

The Craig dress code defines “inappropriate” clothing as clothes with a negative message about “race, religion, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, national origin, ancestry, creed, pregnancy, or physical, mental, emotional or learning disabilities.”

But the code doesn’t offer a straightforward answer for every situation, Kuehne said.

The school dealt with a situation similar to Edgerton’s last year when students started wearing “snowman” shirts made popular by rapper Young Jeezy. The snowman looks innocent enough, but it represents cocaine, Kuehne said.

The school banned the shirts last year, he said.

“It’s just your knowledge of the situation,” he said. “What might be appropriate today may in fact, because of societal conditions, become totally inappropriate tomorrow.”

Jamie Gillespie, Evansville High School principal, said she wasn’t sure how the district would handle a controversy involving band T-shirts because it’s never come up.

The Evansville High School dress code states: “Students are expected to wear clothes that are considered appropriate and conducive to learning … Clothing with obscene or vulgar material is not permitted.”

“It is something that I will talk to my staff about,” Gillespie said. “It’s always good to have those conversations.”

The controversy isn’t over yet in Edgerton, a mother of one of the protestors said. Cindy Richardson, mother of senior Matt Richardson, plans to contact the Edgerton School Board to try to get the T-shirt issue on a future agenda, she said. If it’s not resolved there, she’s prepared to go to court, she said.

“We definitely feel their civil rights are being violated,” she said.

Last updated: 9:10 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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