Students suggest all-out ban in wake of Korn T-shirt tiff

Tuesday, April 7, 1998

A month after a student's suspension for wearing a Korn T-shirt in school, a group of students in Zeeland, Mich., asked school officials to consider banning all music-related clothing.

One music-rights advocate decried the students' move, saying they probably don't understand that “once the censor's foot is in the door he will come in to stomp on their right to free expression again and again.

“Perhaps the kids in Zeeland believe that by giving in on this one issue they can settle the controversy and get back to 'normal,'” said Nina Crowley of the Massachusetts Music Industry Coalition. “What they don't realize is that the restriction of their rights won't stop at Korn or Tool or Marilyn Manson T-shirts, and it won't stop in Zeeland.”

Zeeland school officials last month suspended 18-year-old Eric VanHoven for wearing T-shirts featuring the bands Korn and Tool. A Zeeland High assistant principal suspended the teen-ager after discovering the groups' “offensive” lyrics on the Internet.

Since then, the district's dress code has been the school board's main topic of discussion in meetings and forums. About 175 people packed one meeting concerning the T-shirt debate.

The school's dress policy now forbids “a manner of appearance that is beyond mere freedom of expression and disrupts the educational process or presents risk to themselves or others.” The code also forbids clothing that displays or implies obscenity, violence, drugs, alcohol or sexual innuendo.

In revising the dress code, the board is considering whether it should focus on specific shirts or incidents. Last week, students told a board committee that the school district should simply ban all music-related clothing.

Crowley said that schools across the nation have considered banning everything from camouflage to South Park apparel. Beyond that, she said there are numerous demands for other forms of censorship.

The fact that students are asking for a ban doesn't help, she said.

“The kids in Zeeland aren't only opening the door to censorship in Zeeland they are acting as advocates for censorship in high schools across the country,” she said.

The board plans to offer a revised dress code during its May 4 meeting.