A dozen students at Wilbur Middle School in Wichita, Kansas, were threatened with suspension for dressing in black clothing, dying their hair, and wearing black lipstick or eye shadow after the school's principal cracked down on the "Goth" look last week.
"There's always been a policy in our dress code against gang or group-related clothing," Principal Cherie Crain said. "Because there's power in numbers. When a group looks alike, they terrorize other kids or intimidate them. Sixth graders in particular were very intimidated by the cultist look. "
Wilbur's dress code forbids students from wearing clothing that "create[s] a 'gang' or clique appearance," as well as accessories like "nose, eyebrow, lip or tongue rings, chains, dog collars, safety pins [and] studded clothing." According to the dress code, these items are all banned because "they disrupt the school environment or impede learning in the classroom."
"Last week, a parent told me her two kids were talking about this at dinner," Crain said. "And one of them said 'I'm so glad Ms. Crain did this, because a Goth sat behind me last year and every single day he'd hiss at me like a snake.' And that impeded his learning."
According to Crain, in previous school sessions, "no more than three students" wore Gothic-inspired clothing. But when the school year began last week, she noticed a group of 10 to 12 students dressed in black, wearing lipstick and makeup. She immediately called the students into her office to let them know their look violated the school's dress code.
Thus far, the students have complied.
"I'll send students home until they want to come back to school dressed in clothes that do not violate the dress code," Crain said. "That's not the wholesome look that's conducive to students performing to excellence. I've got 1,050 kids here, and basically it's a clean-cut, good-looking group."
Crain said she doesn't have a problem with students wearing black — after all, Wilbur Middle School's colors are red and black. But when black clothing is combined with dyed hair, make-up and painted nails, it becomes a concern.
"The problem is when kids go whole-hog with the look, then it takes on a sort of dark-side symbolism," she said. "And it upsets parents, it upsets kids and it upsets teachers. This is a place to go to school, and to be a kid. And I don't want kids being afraid or nervous. It's a wholesome environment."