I'm an Oklahoma City Public Schools middle schoolteacher and have taught at schools with a significant gang presence. The district staff is regularly updated by the Oklahoma City Police Department on gang identification. The list of things to look for includes bandannas, colored shoe laces, belt buckles, shoe brands, clothing brands, sports team's logos or colors. This is a serious problem, not an imagined one.
I shake my head at the parent of the kindergartner required to turn his Michigan T-shirt inside out. The parent got a Student/Parent Handbook at the beginning of school. The OKCPS dress code is clearly stated on pages 19 and 20. The parent had to sign and return a page agreeing to comply with district policies. Who dressed the child that day?
This district policy is in place for a good reason — to prevent gang violence in schools. This boy may not be aware of the different symbols of gang affiliation, but this doesn't mean there aren't other parents out there who purposely dress their children to reflect connection to certain gangs. The most important reason for enforcing this dress code is to protect the safety of all students. A student who unwittingly wears something associated with a certain gang can become a target for rival gang members.
I wish we lived in a world without violent gangs, but we don't. Sadly, even kindergartners must adhere to certain restrictions for the safety of themselves and others.
Angela Lister, Oklahoma City
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