School's first test: dress code

Winters Mill High faculty, students say stricter rules will be tough to enforce

August 27, 2002|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

When the Carroll County school board adopted a countywide student dress code in June, board President Susan W. Krebs predicted that three-quarters of the students who wear shorts to school would find themselves in violation of the new rules.

She wasn't far off.

"It's going to be real tough," Winters Mill Principal Sherri-Le W. Bream said yesterday morning of the rules as she welcomed ninth- and 10th-graders into the new, still-gleaming $35.4 million school outside Westminster.

The prickliest of the new rules requires that skirts and shorts be a modest length, resting midthigh or lower when a girl is seated.

"They don't make shorts like that anymore. They truly don't," Bream said. "We have gym shorts that are longer that we can give to students whose shorts are a real problem. But if we're going to have rules like this, we're going to need to speak to the clothing manufacturers to work with us, and that's not going to happen."

The dress code, one of the strictest in the region, took effect for yesterday's opening day of the school year. The first day of classes in Carroll's 39 schools went smoothly, as about 28,000 students and about 2,900 staff started the new school year. As usual, a few buses were late and a few bus routes had to be adjusted for afternoon runs, but no major glitches marred the first day.

"It's nice to be back," Shiloh Middle School Principal Tom Hill said. "I've always said it's the students that make a school a school, so we're glad to be back to doing what everyone does really well."

Special education teacher Paul Burnside and several colleagues were so eager to start the year in the new Winters Mill High School that they showed up at 5:55 a.m. - before the building supervisor had unlocked the doors.

"We had to work our way in through the service entrance this morning," Burnside said from his morning post atop the school's sweeping staircase, where he helped students with locker combinations and directions to classrooms. "It's exciting to see the halls finally filled with students because that's what we've been working toward for the last couple years. It's a pretty awesome experience."

The new school celebrated its first day with free breakfast, slide shows, free school shirts and water bottles and a licensed falconer who brought a red-tailed hawk to release during an outdoor afternoon assembly in honor of the school's mascot, the falcon.

But the hawk - panting in the afternoon heat and unmoved by the day-old rooster head that its master waggled in its face - did not move from its perch on a pipe in the football field. The plan had been for the imposing bird to soar across the field in a physical depiction of the day's lessons to students: You can soar at Winters Mill. Falconer Michael B. Dupuy promised to return in cooler fall weather with the hawk.

Earlier in the day, students at Winters Mill were briefed on the new wardrobe standards, which earned mixed reviews. Although the rules were published in the school's summer newsletter, short shorts far outnumbered those of the longer, thigh-covering variety.

"It's kind of hard to find shorts like that," said Michelle Smith, a 14-year-old freshman whose jean shorts, like most of her classmates', did not reach mid-thigh when she was standing, let alone seated.

"I guess I can understand why they'd want us to wear shorts like that, but you can't find any that long," she said. "I don't think we should be allowed to wear shorts that are too short, but what the code requires is just too long."

Katie Hutchinson, a 15-year-old sophomore who attended Westminster High last year, did not mind the new rules.

"I don't think it's much different from what we had last year. I know they're trying to make it harder, but I don't know whether they'll enforce the shorts rule here," she said. "I don't see shorts that are that long for us and I think as long as they cover their butt, they're OK."

Most of the dress code provisions were proposed by student leaders in the 125-member Carroll County Student Government Association, who were offended by what some classmates wore to school and disgruntled that rules and enforcement varied from school to school across the county.

The only major difference between what the students proposed and what was adopted was the rule covering shorts.

Administrators said yesterday that they would let students familiarize themselves with the rules and hold students to a reasonable standard rather than stand at the front door with a ruler.

"I know our administrative staff have a positive outlook about it and are ready to enforce it, but they're not looking for ways to send kids home," said Barry Gelsinger, the school system's assistant superintendent of instruction. "Our goal is to keep kids in school and keep kids learning, but at same time use the dress code to improve the culture and overall atmosphere of school.

"Somewhere in there, a line gets crossed. If someone comes in with exceptionally short shorts to test the waters, an administrator will deal with that right away," he said. "But if a student comes in with shorts an inch shorter than what's allowed, I think that will be dealt with differently."

At Winters Mill yesterday, teachers used different tactics to explain the rules to students. Instructors in one meeting used military-like cadence chants to drill into students that they cannot bare their bellies in school.

Others appealed to students' sensibilities.

"It's a little hard for boys to concentrate on math when they're looking at girls dressed for the beach," social studies teacher Kim Stem told students, explaining that shirts must cover entire backs and midriffs.

"Treat this like your workplace," she said.

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