- The Washington Times - Monday, August 20, 2001

Fashion followers of pop star Britney Spears should be hard to spot at area schools this year, as officials prepare to enforce student dress codes.
For most students, that means no bare midriffs, crop tops, short shorts, halter tops, and see-through or torn clothing. School leaders say they routinely send inappropriately dressed children home to change or provide them with clothing to cover their unsuitable attire.
Students who violate the dress code at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School in Beltsville are required to change into gym clothes or something from a "special" closet maintained by the school.
"Some want to say: 'Call my mother. She'll bring me a change.' I say: 'Put on the gym shorts. I don't have time for that,'" Principal Robin Wiltison said.
"I am from the 'old school,'" said Tyrone A. Hopkins, principal of Kramer Middle School in Southeast. "I don't like boys with size 21 waists wearing size 42 jeans that show their underwear. And I don't like girls coming to school with their mouths 'bleeding' [with excessive lipstick]."
Paul Regnier, a spokesman for Fairfax County public schools, said school officials have written and enforced dress codes to encourage a "workplace" atmosphere in classrooms and to stop children from competing against each another in an ever-escalating clotheshorse race.
"We've got to get past the students' thinking that one has to get the same kind of clothes as the other," Mr. Regnier said. "If we have these policies in place, then we won't have to deal with that thinking, and it won't become more important than what they're learning in school."
Getting past children's thinking about clothes can be difficult in a society that markets to pre-teens the revealing styles of pop diva Christina Aguilera or rap artist L'il Kim as everyday wear: A clothing store at Hechinger Mall in Northeast is announcing its back-to-school sale with signs emblazoning the words "sexy," "cool" and "attitude," and pictures of young models decked out in fashions ranging from sequined jackets to belly-baring tank tops.
"Kids don't [need] the pressure of wearing $60 Tommy Hilfiger jeans and expensive shirts to keep up with other students," said Tonya Thompson, a D.C. mother of two daughters.
In the District, dress codes in elementary and middle schools have given way to uniform policies — the result of pressure from parents like Mrs. Thompson. She spoke at the podium during a "uniform fashion show" organized by the District's public school system on Thursday, saying uniforms keep parents from worrying about their children and ought to be encouraged.
But even uniforms require strict standards on how they are worn, said Mr. Hopkins, adding that he has had to discipline children who wear uniforms that fit too tightly or who roll up their standard-issue shorts to make them shorter.
Dress codes in Northern Virginia allow individual schools to establish additional guidelines for their students. At parents' requests, some schools also have considered voluntary uniform policies.
In Fairfax County, 15 elementary and middle schools have voluntary uniform policies, but only students at Cameron Elementary School wear uniforms. That's mostly because the parents at Cameron didn't want their children competing against classmates.
The uniform movement is inching toward Arlington, where some 540 students at Carlin Springs Elementary School will have an option to wear uniforms beginning this fall. Principal Christine Sutton said she instituted the policy at the request of parents.
"The primary complaint was the cost and having the hassles of buying this brand name instead of this brand name," Ms. Sutton said. "They wanted something done to help them."
The Carlin Springs' uniform will consist of a plain blouse, knee-length skirts and jumpers for girls, and plain shirts and khaki pants for boys. Students who opt not to wear uniforms will be expected to follow the school's dress code, Ms. Sutton said.
Talk of dress codes and uniforms did not faze most of the teen-agers who were out shopping for school clothes at the Fashion Centre at Pentagon City last week.
"It really doesn't matter to me either way," said Lashandra Miller, 12, who will attend George Washington Middle School in Alexandria in the fall. "I can wear whatever I want when I come home or go to a friend's house to a party."
Her friend Diana Washington, 14, who is starting her first year at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, took a more serious approach. "School is school. It's not a fashion show," she said.
Walking out of a clothing store at Hechinger Mall, Amber Saddler, 11, dressed in jeans and T-shirt, said she did not go for the low-cut trousers and short blouses herself.
"I can understand when schools say we should not wear very short clothes," she said of the dress code at Noyes Elementary School, from which she recently graduated. "But I don't see why they don't allow children to wear cut-up clothes."
Other children also said they could see why schools needed dress codes.
Wearing denim shorts of a length that no school likely would approve, Cherelle Bejar said she did not mind having to wear longer skirts and trousers to school.
"It is because of how the boys act," the 11-year-old said. "If a girl wears a short skirt, the boys are going to look under it."


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