Originally created 09/06/98

Students punished for dress code story, parent says



SUMTER, S.C. -- Sumter is the latest battleground over efforts to restrict what children wear to school, joining Simpsonville and Indian Land.

A group of Sumter School District 2 students interviewed for a recent newspaper story on Crestwood High School's revised dress code say they were reprimanded after the article appeared in The (Sumter) Item.

The students opposed the policy and had been reprimanded for breaking the code, such as failing to tuck in shirt tails.

Stephen, 17, his brother "Michael", 16, and their friend Jenny were assigned in-school suspension Tuesday.

The teens asked that their full names not be used to protect their privacy. One student's name was changed.

Such suspension is often used as a form of punishment that isolates students by placing them in a separate room where they can work on school assignments.

One of the boys said a teacher told him she was reprimanding him because of the article.

The boys' mother, Dianna, said she was so upset that she called the American Civil Liberties Union and will meet with a representative next week.

"These kids are being punished because they spoke their minds," she said.

Superintendent Frank Baker said the reprimands had "absolutely nothing do with the article -- nothing." He said most school officials could not identify the students in the newspaper's story last Sunday.

Mr. Baker said "Michael" and Jenny were sent to the office Tuesday because they violated the dress code again.

Stephen was given in-school suspension after he pulled his shirt out of his pants and asked to be sent with his brother, Mr. Baker said.

Jenny was reprimanded because her blouse was too short and exposed her midriff, he said.

"Michael" was initially called down for wearing his shirt outside of his pants.

When he reluctantly agreed to tuck his shirt in, the school official learned the teen wasn't wearing a belt, Mr. Baker said.

Mr. Baker said school officials called the boy's mother and asked her to bring him a belt.

Dianna, 37, said she took the children home instead.

Students who continue to disregard the dress policy could be reprimanded for being disrespectful toward teachers and administrators.

That could result in suspension, and those absences are not excused and count against them.

The ACLU has sued Lancaster County school Superintendent John Taylor and Indian Land Elementary School Principal Jim Howey because of that school's policy.

However, Mr. Taylor has said no students were being sent home for violations.

ACLU lawyers also are meeting with the parents of some students at Hillcrest High School in Simpsonville, where a number of students were suspended after they walked out of class to protest a new dress code.