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Are Students Properly Dressed for School?

Public schools' dress code at work.

Administrators say it's because of Britney Spears. Students say it's because they want to express themselves — to stand out midst their peers. Parents think fashion designers are to blame for offering no alternatives.

Whatever the cause, low-rise jeans, midriff bearing shirts and short skirts are popular fashions, causing schools to regulate proper school attire, without posing too many restrictions on students.

"If we approach school as the [student's] job," said Janice Leslie, principal at Herndon High School , "I ask them, would your father or mother wear something like that to work?"

Although Leslie said Herndon doesn't see too many dress code violations, last year the Fairfax County Public Schools released an amended section of their Students' Responsibilities and Rights manual that focused on dress codes in schools.

To combat the potential distractions clothing could cause in school, as well as to limit any gang memorabilia being worn, the school system derived a more detailed section of clothing responsibilities and consequences to unify the district.

The code states: "... Clothing with language or images that are vulgar, discriminatory, or obscene or clothing that promotes illegal or violent conduct ... or clothing that contains threats such as gang symbols is prohibited ... Clothing that exposes cleavage, private parts, the midriff, or undergarments, or that is otherwise sexually provocative, is prohibited. Examples of prohibited clothing include ... sagging or low-cut pants, low-cut necklines that show cleavage, tube tops, halter tops, backless blouses or blouses with only ties in the back, clothing constructed of see-through materials, and head coverings unless required for religious or medical purposes."

"WE'RE IN the style of extraordinarily short skirts and low tops," said Leslie of the current fashions that have turned up in schools. "Ever since Britney Spears hit the scene."

"It's awful," said Jeanette Snider, Herndon senior, about the strict dress code. "I mean, it's appropriate, but if you're not showing your bra you should be OK."

Snider and Laura Kim, also a Herndon senior, explained how the school dress code — termed "spaghetti and lasagna" — is appropriate, but at times they think it's too strict.

The term refers to the type of straps on young women's tops. Spaghetti straps, or very thin straps on tank tops, are not allowed, whereas the thicker, "lasagna" straps are acceptable.

"It's appropriate because you don't want girls looking promiscuous in the hallways," said Kim. "I think [spaghetti and lasagna] is OK."

Snider admitted she agreed, but added that students could learn to wear strapless bras or more appropriate attire to look a little more classy.

"They make such a big deal about it," said Snider of school officials. "Sometimes I have to bring an extra jacket or shirt in case they don't approve."

Leslie said when students come to school in attire deemed inappropriate, they have extra shirts in the office that students must wear during to school day to either cover up, or hide prohibited paraphernalia.

"A lot of times they know it, so they have an extra pair of clothes in their locker," said Leslie, adding that the "spaghetti and lasagna" analogy has worked well with students. "The thing about it is, the kids don't create the style, it's coming off the runways and the stores."

ANN MARIE RUSKIN, mother of a Herndon freshman, agreed it's not the children who create the fashion.

"Unfortunately, the styles these days don't offer kids that many choices," said Ruskin. "The biggest problem is the selection out there, the pleated skirts are cute, if they're long enough."

Laschari Celistan, South Lakes High School junior, agrees some outfits can look inappropriate if not paired properly.

"Short skirts can be cute if you wear them right," said Celistan. "But don't wear high heels with them, that makes them look trashy."

Celistan prides herself on her good fashion sense, attributing most of it to her desire to be original from her peers, as well as her love for clothes.

"Fashion is a very big thing, the way people dress at South Lakes is very unique," she said. "Standing out is important."

Snider said being original with fashion is the same at Herndon, but that shouldn't make it a deterrent from learning.

"Nothing anyone wears is going to distract me in class," said Snider. "If anything, what I wear makes me more confident in school because I feel good."

Ruskin and Leslie agree fashion plays a pivotal role in high school, but the focus should not be on clothing.

"It's important to kids to focus on wearing [trendy] clothes," said Ruskin. "But they need to also focus on school."

Leslie said the dress code was implemented to keep the learning environment comfortable for all students.

"A number of kids were grateful for it," said Leslie, adding it's not always the students who need to be reminded of proper attire. "I have observed parents, that if they were at school during the day, they would have been given a t-shirt."

For Snider, Kim and Celistan, they agree that their fashion has not been totally stifled by the dress code, but they still don't support it 100 percent.

"I understand why they're doing it," said Snider. "I just wish they wouldn't."