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Santa Barbara School Board to Consider Ban On Baggy Clothing

The dress-code amendment is a watered-down version of a previous proposal, but would give individual schools the right to float their own rules.

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The Santa Barbara school board Tuesday night will consider banning all oversized clothing on campuses. The amendment is a watered-down version of a proposal pitched to the board about four months ago that would have prohibited, among other apparel, white T-shirts when worn with a black or blue T-shirt. (Rob Kuznia / Noozhawk photo)

If baggy pants aren’t quite out of style yet, the Santa Barbara school board might do its part to speed up the process Tuesday night, when it will consider eliminating that fashion option for students by amending the dress code.

The proposed new addition to the policy essentially bans all oversized clothing, from sagging pants to drooping jackets and parkas.

“Oversized clothing can be used to hide very illicit contraband,” such as drugs and weapons, said Michael Gonzalez, the administrator in charge of discipline issues at the Santa Barbara School District.

If passed, the new dress-code policy also would pave the way for more local control, granting individual schools the right to propose to the school board their own dress-code rules and bans.

The item is up for discussion at a time when the city and schools are grappling over how best to address an emerging gang problem that has resulted in the stabbing deaths of three teens in two years. 

The proposed oversized-clothing amendment is a watered-down version of a more comprehensive proposal that was pitched to the board about four months ago. That one, floated in May, would have prohibited students from wearing white T-shirts when worn with another black or blue T-shirt, knee-length socks when worn with long shorts, and haircuts, jewelry or other accessories denoting membership in a gang.

Board members balked, saying it seemed to infringe on the first-amendment rights of students.

Indeed, an opinion from the district’s legal counsel revealed that adopting the original proposal would have put the district on shaky legal ground, Gonzalez said. But, he added, the California Education Code allows individual schools to institute such bans, provided the school rules are approved by the school board.

Gonzalez said no local schools have approached him yet with a proposal, but said he believes that it probably will happen in the near future.

School board member Nancy Harter said she’s much more comfortable with the new dress-code proposal.

“I think it makes a lot of sense,” she said. “Schools can respond to their very specific differences and their specific school cultures.”

She added that it is in line with what other school districts across the state have adopted, citing as an example one in Stockton, where city and school officials have been dealing with a different sort of gang dilemma, in which adults are recruiting students into organized cartels.

School-specific bans would need to be reviewed frequently, mostly because styles change, Harter said. 

Annette Cordero, the school board member who was most critical of the prior proposal, could not be reached for comment Monday.

In a related matter, the school board Tuesday night also will consider another scaled-down version of an earlier gang-related proposal: to hire two people to work directly with gang members and their families.

About a month ago, the board sent back to the drawing board a proposal to hire five or six full-time staff members for this position, which at the time was labeled “gang intervention specialists.” The item would have cost the school district at least $330,000 annually.

The cost to the district under the new proposal is about $133,000 yearly. The official title of the employees has changed — to “outreach workers” — but their basic charge has not: being a resource to gang members and their families. If passed, one outreach worker would be stationed in schools on each of the east and west sides of town.

On this, Harter was more skeptical, although she said the new proposal is a marked improvement.

“When you put together these kinds of initiatives in a community, you need to have a community-wide structure in place,” she said. “There needs to be some central responsibility-taker for the whole thing. I feel like I’m not clear on what all the connections are that exist in the community.”

Noozhawk staff writer Rob Kuznia can be reached at [email protected]

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