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SWHS students adjust to dress code

Stella Johnson, left, and her friend, Emilee Cole, both juniors, discuss South Whidbey High School
Stella Johnson, left, and her friend, Emilee Cole, both juniors, discuss South Whidbey High School's dress code. Johnson is wearing what many students consider is appropriate garb for a warm day.
— image credit: Gayle Saran

No shirt, no shoes, no service.

That's a sign seen on doors to many businesses, but it could also be posted at South Whidbey High School.

While not wearing shoes or shirt is an obvious violation of South Whidbey High School's dress code, there are other, less evident regulations with which students are required to comply.

The school revisited its dress code last spring, updating it after it was left out of last year's high school handbook. The dress code -- which has been on the board books since 1986 -- is back in the handbook this year, just so there is no forgetting that it exists.

According to Mike Johnson, the school's principal, the dress code reflects "basic good taste." There are no uniform requirements and no one is expected to show up in in white Oxford shirts, black slacks and black shoes.

"We want students to wear clothing appropriate for the workplace," Johnson said.

Dress that glamorizes drugs, alcohol, tobacco, violent behavior, gang activity or sex is also not allowed. For instance, a shirt emblazoned with a marijuana leaf is a violation of the code.

So what is the punishment for wearing such a shirt?

"If a student was wearing such a garment, we would ask him to change or perhaps turn it inside out, that day, and then never wear it in school again," Johnson said.

Safety is also a consideration in the code. School clothing should be appropriate to school activities and not be a distraction to other students.

For instance, a student working in auto shop or playing athletics shouldn't be wearing a long chain that could get caught in machinery. But, outside of the shop, the chain -- according to the code -- would be legal dress in the school.

Johnson acknowledges that dress is an expression for many students and that school administration are not looking for a cookie cutter look among students.

"But we are a public institution with a captive audience, the students," he said. "We need to hit the middle of the road, not too far one way or the other."

Some examples of inappropriate dress include sagging pants, exposed midriffs, exposed underwear, low cut or spaghetti strap tops and pajamas.

But just because the code is approved and published in the student handbook this year does not mean all students like it. Junior Stella Johnson said she believes it is ridiculous to limit students from wearing tank tops and t-shirts with straps, especially in warm weather.

"They fit the season, it's the style and everyone does it," she said.

But she does concede that some limits are good. In her mind, short shorts and short skirts are inappropriate.

For other students, the dress code won't affect what they wear.

"It doesn't change anything for me," said senior Mallarie Litwiller. "But I do believe it just makes students want to break it,"

How other students dress doesn't concern junior Kris Erickson.

"Whatever kids choose to wear doesn't distract me in class. There are so many other things to worry about."

Some rules may seem obvious to adults, but according to Johnson style changes and the code has to keep up with it. Gang clothing is something that changes in the code have addressed more recently.

"But that really isn't a problem here, like in the Seattle schools," Johnson said.

The high school's dress code comes under the Board of Education policy relating to students' rights and privileges. Wearing pajamas or exposing undergarments is considered against the code. Dress that degrades a gender, race or creed is also forbidden.

While all of this may seem to play to the greater good of the student body, some students won't even consider the logic of a dress code. Wearing a baseball cap turned slightly to the side, Kurt Muniz, a senior at South Whidbey High, said he thinks the code is pointless.

"I think everyone should have the freedom to wear what they want," he said. "We all have our own personality and way of expressing ourselves."

Enforcing the dress code this year, said principal Johnson, will sometimes be a judgement call. That's when it can get a bit touchy.

"Sometimes a teacher will send a student to the counselor to handle the situation especially if it is a male teacher and a female student, or male student with a female teacher," he said."

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