A lot changed after April 20, 1999, when Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold went on their murderous rampage through Columbine High School. Before then, students could carry tools such as pocketknives and nail files. Now, not only are such items cause for suspension or expulsion, students themselves are scrutinized for any sign of malice or mental illness.
In his book, “What Schools Ban and Why,” R. Murray Thomas explains that schools prohibit items out of safety concerns, but also to reflect community mores. “Most things that are outlawed in schools are banned for moral-value reasons. However, some things are banned for the sake of educational efficiency,” he writes.
Though schools tend to ban the same things, each tends to emphasize some items more than others. In particular, urban schools focus more on safety above anything else, while private and suburban schools are more relaxed about just about everything.
In an interview, Thomas, a retired professor from the University of California in Santa Barbara, attributes these disparities to the fact that the student bodies found in urban and suburban schools are inherently different. In urban schools, he explained, students have more diverse social and ethnic backgrounds while students attending suburban schools oftentimes share similar backgrounds.
“As society becomes more differentiated, with more kinds of people in it, you’re going to have more conflicts,” he said.
Meghane Masquelin, a senior from suburban Carmel High School, agreed with this assessment. "Carmel, everyone says it's a little bubble."
Four students from four schools recently gathered at Y-Press to talk about school bans and enforcement. In addition to Meghane, 17, they were Anthony Gorden, 15, a sophomore at Ben Davis High School, a large public school on the Westside; Nick Ruppert, 15, a freshman at Herron High School, a charter school downtown; and Becca Bruns, 10, a fifth-grader at Hasten Hebrew Academy, a private school on the Northside.
All of these schools ban immodest clothing – skimpy tops and skirts for girls, sagging pants that show underwear, pajamas – and clothing that promotes illegal or inflammatory slogans. Most schools prevent coats from being worn in the classroom. This is especially true at large urban schools, where clothing bans tend to be stricter and are implemented to prevent students from carrying weapons or promoting gangs.
For example, Anthony said Ben Davis requires students to wear drawstring backpacks and now bars any pants with large holes. He said the fear is that students could conceal weapons in regular book-bag straps or the holes in pants.
“Last year there was this video on YouTube,” Anthony explained. “There was this dude, he had on like a real long shirt and like these sagging pants, and he pulled like 12 different guns out.”
On the other hand, Meghane said the dress code at Carmel is pretty lenient. "The dress code is very loose I guess. We just need to have shirts that are able to be tucked in. Girls have to have shirts that are not revealing, you know, like no cracks at the bottom. Three-finger-wide straps for little tank tops, and nothing see-through."
Dress at Hasten is modest, in keeping with the schools’ traditional Jewish values. Herron avoids any misunderstandings and controversies by adopting a strict dress code. “At our school, we have to wear uniforms. You have to have khaki pants and a black and white polo with a white crewneck shirt under it,” Nick said. Girls have the same, though they can wear a plaid skort in place of khaki pants.
Both urban and suburban schools implement similar technology bans concerning hand-held devices. In general, all of the schools prohibit cell phones in the classroom but often leave it up to the teacher to enforce the rule. At Hasten, parents can request that students carry cell phones, and there have been few problems, Becca said.
Anthony said enforcement is spotty at Ben Davis. "Sometimes as I walk like I'll be on the phone or I'll be texting in the hallways. Some teachers don’t care. But then just the other day somebody had his phone taken away, and (an adult) had to come get it."
Meghane said Carmel prohibits cellphones, Ipods and MP3s. “Anything electronic isn’t supposed to be in the classrooms, but it’s not like anyone actually does it.” She added that some teachers allow IPods depending on the class and the activities of the day.
FOOD AND DRINKS
Food and drink bans usually depend on the school. Not only are there differences in food and drink bans between urban and suburban schools, there are also differences in those bans between urban and suburban schools themselves.
The strictest rules are at Hasten Hebrew Academy, which keeps a kosher kitchen. In addition, because the school is quite small (33 students in grades 6, 7 and 8), any food allergies are widely known, so there are many prohibitions on outside food, said Becca. "We're only allowed to bring fruits and vegetables, and for drinks, I think you're only allowed to bring water."
Herron High School also bans all foods and gum in the classroom to preserve the facility, which is a converted art museum. But the largest schools – Ben Davis and Carmel – have no restrictions. "We can bring food as long as it doesn't disturb the class while you eat it in the class. And it also depends on the teacher because some teachers will allow you to eat in the class while some teachers don't. And as for chewing gum, there isn't any rule that I can think of,” said Meghane.
MEDICATION AND CIGARETTES
All schools prohibit drugs and alcohol and bar students from even carrying over-the-counter medication like Tylenol, requiring that it be kept with the school nurse. To enforce the seriousness of the ban, students at urban schools are subjected to sporadic searches by both administrators and drug dogs.
Meghane said that while Carmel bans all drugs and medication, she has observed many students who carry Advil, Tylenol or other common cold medications in their backpacks.
Similarly, all schools prohibit smoking on campus, but some have stricter enforcement than others. According to Anthony, it is the norm, not the exception, to see Ben Davis students smoking cigarettes in the parking lots after school.
But the other students say their smoking bans are strictly enforced at their schools. “I got in trouble for smoking cigarettes off the school premises, within view,” said Nick.
SOME BANS ARE NECESSARY
Though the students do not abide by all the bans implemented at their schools because they either are not strictly enforced or are otherwise disagreeable, all the students felt some bans were necessary to ensure a safe learning environment.
According to Meghane, there should be bans on drugs, alcohol, weapons and clothing. She said, "I guess like just drugs, alcohol, weapons and stuff is a good ban. I think maybe a dress code would be helpful maybe sometimes."
Nick agreed, in part. "I agree with like drugs and alcohol, and you don't want to be hurting people with weapons. But like the dress code, I think I understand why we have it, just so everyone can be more like the same I guess and not be judged on the way they dress and stuff … but I don’t prefer to wear uniforms."
ASSISTANT EDITORS: Shayan Ahmad, 15; Keenen Brannon, 15, Max Dean, 17.
REPORTER: Naomi Farahan, 12.
In his interview and book, “What Schools Ban and Why,” R. Murray Thomas makes some observations about the future of bans. They include:
Copyright Y-Press 2009