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Clearwater High considers strict dress code for students

CLEARWATER — No concert T-shirts, no short skirts, no jeans shorts or gym shorts. Clearwater High School is thinking about toughening its dress code, and it's asking students' parents to vote on it this week.

It would be the first Pinellas County high school to have such a strict dress code. But other local high schools are considering doing the same thing, and they're watching Clearwater High closely.

If the school changes its policy, students would be required to wear long- or short-sleeved polo or dress shirts in solid red, white, gray or black — the school's colors. Aside from that, they would be limited to the following wardrobe: black or khaki pants, knee-length shorts or knee-length skirts; neat blue jeans; plain sweatshirts or sweaters in the school colors; and Clearwater High T-shirts.

Here's what would be banned next school year: All other T-shirts; oversized or undersized shirts; bare midriffs and visible cleavage; shirts that are yellow, orange, pink, blue or green; torn pants; jeans shorts; hoodies (students hide cellphones in the front pockets); athletic shorts (except during gym); and visible underwear.

Students would have to wear belts with shorts, pants and jeans, which would have to come up to their waists.

"Parents can vote through Friday. I want the community as a whole to make the decision," principal Keith Mastorides said. "They're the ones who dress their kids in the morning, not me."

School officials unveiled the proposal Wednesday night at a meeting for parents. Roughly 120 people there were given ballots to fill out. Several parents spoke up vehemently against a new dress code, while a couple of them argued in favor of it.

Pinellas schools already have a basic districtwide dress code, but this proposal goes well beyond that. Mastorides explained the reasoning:

Next school year, Clearwater High will adopt what it calls a "wall to wall" career academy model of education. Students will enroll in academies focusing on fields like business and international studies; science, technology and engineering; arts and media; and sports, hospitality and recreational education.

In addition to teaching them career skills, the school wants to teach them to dress for success.

Some parents attending Wednesday night's meeting embraced the idea, saying they were trying to teach their kids some decorum and proper behavior.

However, others worried about the cost of buying new clothes and about teenagers' freedom of expression. They wondered why the district's regular dress code wasn't good enough.

While Sondra Halbert's two children get good grades at Clearwater High, she chose it because it's not a fundamental school or a private school with extra restrictions. "I'm not a fan of this policy," she said.

"If only a small percentage of kids are violating the dress code now, why not take care of that problem?" asked parent Tracy Albritton. "You have to enforce the dress code you have."

Mastorides told the crowd that administrators or PTA members at Countryside, Largo and Palm Harbor University high schools have asked for information on Clearwater High's proposal.

Clearwater High parents can send their ballots to the school or vote by phone through Friday; the majority will rule.

Pinellas County has a scattershot history with dress codes. In 2010, then-superintendent Julie Janssen called for mandatory school uniforms in grades K-8, but the School Board didn't go for it. Administrators never proposed uniforms for high schools, figuring it was too big a battle.

At this point, Pinellas administrators are leaving this decision in the hands of Clearwater High.

"The question of whether or not a school implements mandatory uniforms is entirely at the school's discretion," superintendent John Stewart said. "The principal, with input from families, is in the best position to determine if a uniform policy is in the best interest of the students."

Mike Brassfield can be reached at brassfield@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4151.

Clearwater High considers strict dress code for students 03/14/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 14, 2012 11:34pm]
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