Michigan school board delays decision on dress code

Friday, May 8, 1998

The Zeeland, Mich., Board of Education decided earlier this week to postpone its decision on student dress codes until May 18.

Dress codes have been a primary topic of discussion for the board, students and community since school officials suspended 18-year-old student Eric VanHoven of Zeeland High School for wearing T-shirts bearing the names of rock bands Korn and Tool.

The board originally planned to discuss the issue earlier this week, but decided to postpone the decision because, according to school board attorney Mark Zeitlow, a dress code policy from VanHoven's attorney, Kary Love, was submitted late.

School board communications specialist Jim Camenga said that “our attorney suggested to the board that we wait until we review Mr. Love's policy.”

The current policy bans “obscene, libelous, indecent or vulgar material or clothing or other items that imply obscenity, violence, drugs, alcohol or sexual innuendo.”

Efforts to reach Love were unsuccessful, although in an earlier interview he said that he wants a dress code policy that “is more palatable and consistent with students' First Amendment rights.”

Camenga said the current policy is “fairly open, broad-based and almost vague in its wording, but it has to be. Schools are in the business of education, not serving as a clothing committee.

“The policy does place a lot of discretion with the principal and assistant principal,” he said. And “the policy as it stands allows us to determine individual situations on a case-by-case basis.”

A recent letter to the editor in The Holland (Mich.) Sentinel (http://www.thehollandsentinel.net) signed by 35 citizens said school officials should focus on more pressing issues than T-shirts.

The letter read: “Moreover, we don't understand why the administration doesn't realize it has bigger fish to fry. Drug use, gang activity and even underage drinking all seem to be a problem at Zeeland. Maybe the administration should use its energy a little more wisely.”

Camenga added that “there will definitely be action taken on the 18th because both the board and the students want to put this issue behind them.”