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District rejects bid to end dress code lawsuit

The fight to erase gender-specific clothing rules from local schools landed in the lap of the Hillsborough County School Board on Tuesday night.

Karen Doering, attorney for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, said she would drop her pending lawsuit against the district if it would "adopt a gender-neutral dress code policy."

Doering represents Robinson High School graduate Nikki Youngblood, who sued the district last year for requiring her to wear a feminine drape for her senior picture. Because she insisted on wearing a suit, her picture was not taken. Her lawsuit is pending on appeal in federal court.

School district attorney Crosby Few rebuffed Doering's offer, which included a request for $10,000 toward Youngblood's education. He encouraged board members not to comment.

"You took the matter to court," Few told Doering. "It should stay there."

The district's clothing issue has been simmering for months, heated by students at Middleton, Robinson and Bloomingdale high schools who have challenged what they consider arbitrary limits on their freedom of expression.

Last week, board members decided schools should continue deciding what seniors can wear to graduation and in yearbook photos even though many require women to wear drapes for yearbook photos and dresses for graduation.

Doering suggested the schools adopt a single dress code, applicable to all students. "It solves the problem," she said.

In other business, board members signed agreements with the county and Tampa, Plant City and Temple Terrace pledging to work together on locating and building new schools. The agreements were required as part of the state's new growth management plan.

Board members also approved a student portfolio that will be used by third-graders who fail the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test reading section.

A new state law requires third-graders be held back if they fail the reading test, but allows districts to use portfolios as one of six exemptions from mandatory retention.

The portfolio is a collection of nine different reading tests. Students must pass five of the tests to be promoted to the next grade.

Last year, 27 percent of Hillsborough third-graders flunked the reading portion of the test and 3.3 percent were retained.

Board members also approved five new principals for schools whose principals have been transferred, effective March 31. They are Michael Hoskinson at Adams Middle, J. Thomas Roth at Apollo Beach Elementary, Colleen Vaverek at Roosevelt Elementary, Loretta Campo at Yates Elementary and Tricia McManus at Twin Lakes Elementary.

_ Melanie Ave can be reached at 226-3400 or