Michigan board of education keeps dress code policy

Thursday, May 21, 1998

The Zeeland, Mich., Board of Education decided earlier this week to keep its current dress code that prohibits “any clothing or items that imply obscenity, violence, drugs, alcohol or sexual innuendo.”

The issue of dress codes has become a hot topic for the board, students and the community after 18-year-old Zeeland High School student Eric VanHoven was suspended from school for wearing T-shirts bearing the names of rock bands Korn and Tool.

Even though the shirts in question featured only the names of the bands, school officials suspended VanHoven after searching the Internet and discovering the bands' lyrics, which they found objectionable.

The school board considered a student-initiated proposal that would have banned all music T-shirts. However, the school board's communication specialist Jim Camenga said that “the board decided not to adopt such a proposal, because our attorney said that would be too restrictive and might violate First Amendment rights.”

Camenga said that the school board “did not even really vote on the matter but just accepted the recommendation of Superintendent Gary L. Feenstra and school board attorney Mark Zeitlow.”

VanHoven's attorney, Kary Love, was unavailable for comment Wednesday, though in a prior interview he said that he hoped for a policy that “is more palatable and consistent with students' First Amendment rights.”

A petition drafted by Love and sent to the school board says the current policy violates First Amendment principles. ” In order for students to grow up to become informed citizens who can participate in our democracy in a meaningful fashion, they must have an educational experience that engenders appreciation for free speech. Students who go through an educational system that does not allow free speech will not, on graduating, somehow magically learn how to think, to weigh and analyze different views,” the petition reads.

Camenga said the “school board, the administration, the town and the students are just glad to get this issue behind them and move forward.”