New Dress Code Sparks Controversy

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Stricter enforcement of a dress code is drawing criticism from high school students and at least one mother upset about the way a male administrator determined her daughter's skirt was too short.

At least 18 Reed High School students have been suspended for violating the code since school officials stepped up the enforcement a week ago.

Washoe County School District officials are backing the school rules, which are stricter than the district-wide policy.

But some students are complaining that the rules are not being applied uniformly. And at least one parent, Tammy Thomas, is protesting the way her child was dealt with.

Thomas said a male administrator asked her daughter to "turn around" so he could determine if her skirt was too short. She said the incident occurred when her daughter was taken into a small office with two male administrators and four or five boys in violation of the dress code.

"She was not touched, but I feel very uncomfortable with that," Thomas told the Reno Gazette-Journal.

"I wonder if they have a flaw in their procedure? I just want to know who asked her to turn around and what was the reasoning for asking her to turn around."

Principal Mary Vesco said the school is looking into Thomas' charge. Thomas and school administrators planned to meet Thursday night to discuss the handling of the suspension, Vesco said.

"If it did happen, then it is unacceptable," Vesco said. "But we checked into it ... and we could not substantiate it. That is why we are meeting with Mrs. Thomas."

In addition to miniskirts, the banned attire includes girls' tops that have spaghetti straps, show the midriff or excessive cleavage.

Also prohibited are long belts, low-riding baggy pants worn to expose underwear, chain-type key rings, sleeping attire, bandannas, gang attire of any kind and shirts with messages about sex, drug or alcohol.

Since the new code took effect, Reed High has averaged three suspensions each school day for violations under the new rules.

"We had a policy. The only thing we did is put a little bit of oomph into it," Vesco said. "If you have some rules and people don't take it seriously, then you have to up the consequences."

The new policy is intended to help teach students how to dress after they graduate, Vesco said. Students should know that inappropriate dress might ruin a future job interview, she said.

Thomas and some students said the rule is applied unevenly.

"It is fair and accurate to say that she was not dressing any different than any of the other students," Thomas said of her daughter. "If they were really gung-ho about this, they would have half the kids in the office."

Reed sophomore Ryan Young, 15, said not all students who are in violation of the dress code are punished.

"One of your friends might get suspended. Then you come to school the next day wearing the same thing, and you don't," Young said.

Valesia Williams, 15, said the new rules are an affront to student rights.

"This is kinda like freedom of speech, but in clothing," the freshman said. "A few of my friends got suspended yesterday for wearing Playboy bunny shirts."

Some students said the dress code might have value.

"I can understand the teachers' point of view about the baggy pants and high skirts because it can be disrespectful to the school," said Robert Vega, 17.

"And if a lot of us dressed like we do all the time, then it would hurt your chances of getting a job. But now they are being students. That is what we like to wear and that is how we like to wear it," he said.

Reed's dress code is based on the one at Reno High School. Both are stricter than the blanket policy set by the school district.

The district policy prohibits clothing that is suggestive or revealing, or can be unhealthy or harmful to others. District policy, however, leaves the specifics of the policy to the schools, officials said.

Reno High School Assistant Principal Brian Rothe said the campus dress code was made more specific this year because district policy "was too vague."

Lezlie Porter, the school district trustee who represents the Reed area, and a district administrator said the tougher policies in place at Reed are appropriate.

"The districts reaction is: Good for them," district spokesman Steve Mulvenon said. "We think that they did the right thing."