Schools seek to quell gang problems through dress code: Six school board candidates weigh in on the policies |

Schools seek to quell gang problems through dress code: Six school board candidates weigh in on the policies

Sara Thompson
Students at South Tahoe Middle School who don the wrong clothing are made to wear a bright orange sweats for the day. (Photo Illustration by Dan Thrift / Tahoe Daily Tribune)

To ban red and blue at the schools, or not to ban red and blue. That is a question that drew a range of responses from candidates for the Lake Tahoe Unified School District Board.

Some of the candidates said the dress code is a good tool to remedy the gang problem, while others said the code infringes on student expression and doesn’t solve the problem.

Six candidates, including two incumbents, are vying for three seats on the school board in the Nov. 6 election.

The South Tahoe Middle School dress code states “due to the highly changeable nature of gang-associated clothing, the administration reserves the right to declare any clothing, accessories, colors of specific items of clothing, signs and graffiti which have been identified as associated with gangs, as off-limits on the school premises.”

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The middle school specifically bans bandanas, red or blue belts, along with red or blue shoelaces. The high school’s dress code is similar, but does not ban certain belt colors.

Challenger Jill Sanders, a volunteer art teacher, said she is against taking away freedoms from the students, such as their right to wear certain colors.

“It doesn’t do anything to prevent it (gang problems),” Sanders said.

She wants to implement an honor code in the school district and she said this would help alleviate the gang problem. As long as the problem is monitored, a dress code does not have to be implemented, she said. If kids are educated on these issues, they’ll make the right choices, Sander said.

When enforcing the dress code, education about the situation needs to correspond with the action, incumbent board member Sue Novasel said.

Students need to be taught what are the triggers that set off turf wars in gang situations, she said.

Colors and symbols will change, so the district needs to understand how to look for territorial signs, Novasel said. The main concern is to make sure the students are not in any danger.

Challenger Michael Doyle, a pediatrician, agrees with the current dress code.

“It’s something that has to be done for the kids’ protection,” he said. “It’s the reasonable thing to do.”

Some schools in other districts require students to wear uniforms to combat problems like this, he said. Dress codes don’t inhibit students’ rights to express themselves, Doyle contends.

Barbara Bannar, an incumbent and president of the school board, said the dress code is a tool schools use to keep students safe.

“It’s just one piece in the arsenal,” she said. Communication and school administrators are also a part of keeping a safe environment at the schools.

The district hasn’t gone overboard when banning certain colors. Bannar said school officials have been good with recognizing what is and what isn’t territorial gang attire.

Challenger Lauri Kemper, a water quality engineer, said the root cause of the problem should be examined, instead of the clothing. By banning colors or clothing, the symptom is getting treated rather than the illness, she said.

Gang logos should be banned, she said, but the primary focus should be on the behavior of the students, such as if they are well behaved or not.

Larry Green agrees with Kemper. Dress codes do have their place, he said. He said gang logos should be banned, along with clothing that advertises drugs, alcohol or violence.

He said he doesn’t agree with banning a certain color if it’s associated with a gang. He said better solutions are out there for treating the problem.

South Tahoe Middle School’s assistant principal secretary Becky Fortier said the number dress code infringments can vary from day to day. The school has clothes, such as orange sweat suits, for students to change into for the day if they’re in violation of the dress code. On Monday, only had one student violated the dress code. On average, students don’t repeat the offense, she said.

At South Tahoe High School, Associate Principal Jack Stafford said violations of the dress code’s color restrictions occur once a week or so.

“I took a pair of red shoelaces from a girl on Friday,” Stafford said this week.

Dress code violations are more frequent at the beginning of the school year, Stafford said, but then die down as the students become familiar with the rules.

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