Prosser School District institutes strict dress code

Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldJuly 4, 2014 

PROSSER -- Prosser students won't be required to wear school uniforms in the fall, but they will have to make sure their new school clothes comply with a revamped dress code.

The revised standards, recommended by a committee of parents and district staff, are similar to the past dress code, though there is some altered language. The amended rules don't require board approval.

District officials already have received a few complaints about the rules and expect to receive more, but Superintendent Ray Tolcacher said it isn't possible to please everyone.

"It restricts some things -- like (not showing) skin on the stomach -- but that's not appropriate for school anyway," he said.

District officials said they expect the most criticism from parents and students on how much skin can be shown under the revised rules.

Elementary students will be allowed to wear sleeveless shirts and tank tops, but not older students. Shorts and skirts also can't be anymore than three inches above a knee and no part of the torso may be exposed.

"The changes weren't a huge overhaul. They're just so we can enforce it more easily," said Michael Denny, a parent and recently appointed principal of Housel Middle School.

The district formed a committee two years ago to consider a standardized form of dress for its students, such as specific colors of polo shirts, to cut down on peer pressure, behavioral problems and gang issues.

Several other districts and public schools in the Mid-Columbia and Yakima Valley have instituted similar rules. Informal surveys of Prosser parents and teachers have indicated support for school uniforms.

However, school board members said during a spring public meeting they weren't interested in having school uniforms, with some saying they didn't want to limit students' self-identity and others saying student attire wasn't a top priority.

"I don't know if we're really focused on the right thing," board member Bruce Matsumura said at the May public meeting.

District staff also have said a uniform policy could take time away in the classroom, as teachers would spend more time policing students' clothing. Uniforms also could be a strain for low-income families who would have to purchase very specific clothes for their children.

The revised dress standards keep many of the same restrictions that were present before. Nothing showing gang affiliation, drugs, alcohol or any innuendo is permitted. No hats may be worn in buildings, though students can seek an exception for a medical reason. Spiked jewelry and chains still are prohibited.

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