The Ottumwa Courier

AP National

April 16, 2014

Dress codes: Where should schools set limits?

(Continued)

Now, because of her daughter's experience, Renfro says she catches herself paying attention at school events to dress code violations — earrings that might be too big, or a boy's hair that is longer than shoulder length.

"But does the length of the kids' hair doesn't necessarily affect them in the classroom?" she asks. "I really doubt it does."

Haley Bocanegra, a 17-year-old junior from Riverside, Ill., regularly pushes the limits even further at her school, sometimes dressing like a boy, or wearing wigs and goggles for a "Steampunk" outfit, or a Japanese anime costume.

She says teachers usually have a harder time with it than her classmates do.

"I'm paying attention in class. So why are you making a big deal about it?" the honors student asks, showing them the student handbook to prove she's not violating the code.

At least one former teacher who's now an expert in education law advises schools to continue to focus instead on safety — and to ignore students' unusual dress, if it's not disruptive or disrespectful in some way.

Beyond that, Nancy Hablutzel, a professor of education at the Chicago-Kent College of Law, says consistency is important.

"But," she says, "so is common sense."

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Martha Irvine can be reached at mirvine@ap.org or at http://twitter.com/irvineap

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