'98's Best: Students Keep Korn, Manson T-Shirts Off Campus

Teens acquiescing to dress code guidelines a year after suspensions.

[Editor's note: Over the holiday season, SonicNet is looking back at

1998's top stories, chosen by our editors and writers. This story originally ran on Monday, Aug. 31.]

Korn may have a #1 album and Marilyn Manson may be pushing hard for one

of his own, but students at a Michigan high school will not be allowed

to show their support of these artists anytime soon.

If they do, they could end up in hot water with the school's

administration, if not kicked out of school.

So far this year, the students are listening to orders.

Zeeland High School, which opened for classes Tuesday (Aug. 25) without

incident, suspended three students last spring after they wore to school

T-shirts bearing the names of Korn, Manson and other controversial

artists. The current school dress code bans any clothing bearing the

names of artists whose music or reputation may be considered offensive

or implies "obscenity, violence, drugs, alcohol or sexual innuendo."

Eric VanHoven, 19, who said last May following the controversy that he

planned to defiantly begin the new school year in September by donning a

Korn T-shirt, came to school on the opening day dressed to code. For the

record, he said he wore an Adidas hat, a pair of blue jeans and a

T-shirt baring the name of the metal band Soulfly, a band that

apparently falls within the guidelines of school policy.

"I met with Principal [James] Hatch and he told me that I would not be

wearing Korn T-shirts this year or else I would be suspended again and

possibly expelled," he said.

"They've made Marilyn Manson entirely disappear from our school,"

VanHoven added, explaining that no one has been wearing T-shirts of

shock-rocker Manson, whose next album Mechanical Animals is

headed for stores soon; rap-tinged metal band Korn, whose new album

Follow the Leader is #1 on the Billboard 200 albums chart;

or industrial band Filter, for that matter. Still, he said he has seen

students wearing attire bearing the names of such outspoken heavy-metal

acts as Limp Bizkit, Soulfly and Snot.

Hatch had no comment on the dress code.

Speaking for the administration, Zeeland spokesman Jim Camenga said that

all has remained quiet on the high school's T-shirt front. "We've had no

incidents in the first few days of school," Camenga said. "No one has

been wearing shirts which violate the policy."

Apparently not wanting to deal with the hassles of reawakening the

controversy that brought the high school to national attention, VanHoven

and his fellow students have taken the path of least resistance. "Most

people around here have forgotten all about it," he said. "I didn't

really feel like dealing with the whole controversy again."

What happened to the gung-ho protest spirit of Zeeland High's students,

many of whom followed the controversy by uniting in an effort to amend

the guidelines? "I think a lot of the people who were really passionate

about it last year were seniors," Stacey Spykerman, 18, explained. Now a

senior at Zeeland High, Spykerman said she hasn't seen anyone pushing

the edges of the policy, and the only change she noticed was the policy

prominently displayed in this year's student handbook.

"Everyone pretty much considers it a thing of the past," Spykerman said.

"No one has really been talking about it."

The controversy first generated headlines last March 5 after Zeeland

High's assistant principal, Gretchen Plewes, suspended VanHoven for two

days for wearing a T-shirt to school that bore only the word "Korn," a

band whose music and lyrics the school considers offensive.

Similar punishments were meted out the following day to two other

students who wore shirts bearing the names of Filter and Marilyn Manson.

Ultimately, VanHoven was suspended for a total of seven days for wearing

Korn shirts.

What could have possibly been resolved quietly blew up when Plewes was

quoted by a local daily newspaper as saying "Korn is indecent, vulgar,

obscene and intends to be insulting," and "[Wearing the name Korn] is no

different than a person wearing a middle finger on their shirt." After

the national media picked up the story, Korn's management served Plewes

with a cease-and-desist letter, threatening her and the school district

with a multimillion-dollar defamation suit.

A stormy school board meeting last March 16 resulted in the formation of

a committee of students and administrators that was directed to meet

with the school's student body and present any recommended changes back

to the board on or before May 5 of this year. The committee met with

students interested in the process at an in-school session and decided

to present the school board with a "ban-all-music-related-attire"


At its May 18 meeting, the school board took the advice of its lawyers

and decided not to amend the policy.

By all accounts, everyone at Zeeland High seems to have resigned

themselves to the old policy. "It's been real quiet," Camenga said. "We

would know right away if something happened, but it seems to have been

forgotten over the summer."