After an hour of discussion and debate, students and administrators at Zeeland High School in Michigan have vowed to resolve the controversy over the recent suspension of students for wearing rock T-shirts without changes to the school dress code, according to a school spokesman.
"Both sides agreed that they wanted to resolve this," said high-school spokesman Jim Camenga following Tuesday's meeting. "Both
sides said they didn't want to resort to uniforms."
The students and administrators of Zeeland High School gathered that morning to debate the school's controversial policy banning attire that implies obscenity, seeking to come to a compromise regarding the school's dress code.
The meeting was called as a result of the suspension of junior Eric VanHoven early this month for wearing a T-shirt that bore the name of the alt-metal band Korn. Two more students were subsequently suspended for wearing rock T-shirts to school.
For his part, attorney Tim Hoesch, who sat on the discussion panel, said he thought that the students showed amazing dedication in the eye of a publicity storm, which was sparked by the controversy. "They all said they were sick of the debate," Hoesch said, "that they were tired of it. They said they want to work together to formulate a solution of their own and that they were tired of the pressure from the outside."
According to Camenga, the meeting was attended by 195 of Zeeland High School's 1,200 students in the school's DeWitt Auditorium. "A lot of the kids were saying that no one was going to go," Camenga said. "So I would say it was a larger than expected turnout."
Moderated by Nicki Arendshorst, president of the League of Women Voters of
the Holland, Mich., area, the meeting presented a student-heavy panel consisting of 17-year-old Mike Schout and 18-year-old Ellen Van Dyke, who are in favor of the policy; 19-year-old Pat Grives and 18-year-old Paul Veldheer, who oppose it; and Hoesch, an attorney who specializes in civil litigation and business law.
The meeting was closed to the public but held during school hours, allowing students to attend during their free period. Eight questions were asked of the panel, Camenga explained, adding that those questions were culled from 73 questions that were submitted on paper prior to the meeting. According to Camenga's account, each member of the panel made an opening statement and then addressed questions ranging from what exactly First Amendment rights are to why the shirts of some artists are banned and not others to the rights of the school board to legislate what students wear.
Camenga and Hoesch pointed out that the panelists concentrated less on the shirts of individual bands such as Korn, Tool and Filter (all of which have been banned from the school) and more on the issue of formulating a school-wide dress policy that is acceptable to students, administrators and teachers. "The
panelists were very good about keeping the discussion on track," Camenga
said, explaining that among the questions posed were: "Why did the administration bring the lyrics of Korn into the school?" and "Why are only alternative bands being singled out?"
In response to the high-school assistant principal's comments in a local newspaper calling Korn's lyrics "obscene," the band threatened to sue the school district and issued a cease-and-desist order.
Despite the resulting controversy, Hoesch said he thought that the meeting was productive and fair. In fact, he said that in contrast to behavior he has seen in the courtroom, Tuesday's one-hour meeting "seemed like a tea party." "I expected all hell to break loose, and it didn't," he said.
Student panelists will now meet with Zeeland High School assistant principals Jay Cling and Gretchen Plewes to further discuss the issues and come to an agreement. The panel was instructed by the Zeeland Board of Education on March 16 to present the board with a policy suggestion when it meets on May 4.