COOS COUNTY – School dress codes have been under scrutiny across the nation, particularly for singling out girls for outdated standards.
The World took a look at local school dress codes, two being nearly identical between the North Bend and Coquille school districts.
“There's never been a finger-length measurement officially,” said North Bend High School Vice Principal Jake Smith. “It's not been done because some people may have longer or shorter arms.”
Instead, the dress code calls for students to simply have a well-groomed appearance and to not wear hats during school hours. The guidelines go on to prohibit short shorts/running shorts, cut-offs and tank tops, open-backed clothing and half shirts, and all clothing should never display offensive language, obscenities, vulgarities, or suggestions of immoral behavior.
However, there is also a line that reads, “The principal shall have the prerogative of prohibiting specific items of clothing which, in his or her judgment, distract from the educational process.”
“We expect kids to dress appropriately,” said Principal Bill Lucero. “If kids wear a skirt that's too short, we won't take out a ruler and measure down their leg. We only do something if it seems inappropriate. It's no big deal because it comes down to the distraction, and that is always going to be subjective.”
Smith added that “if boys were wearing a really skimpy tank top or beer logo, it would be the same.”
The Coquille School District has an identical line in their dress code, allowing the principal to decide if clothing is inappropriate.
However, whenever a dress code situation makes national headlines, Superintendent Tim Sweeney shares the articles with his building principals.
“I ask them if this came up at your school, what would you do?” he said. “The last thing we want to do is say a girl has too short of skirt. We don't want to be that.”
In Coquille, a principal's discretion to decide if clothing is out of line with the dress code usually falls under displays of tobacco, alcohol, or suggestive language. In fact, Sweeney remembers only one time where the dress code was used to make a student change his shirt, and that was five years ago.
“The kid wore a Nike shirt with a football player on it saying, 'Show me your TDs,' or your touchdowns, but it sounds like something else,” Sweeney said. “When the kid was told not to wear it, he was fine with that. Our principals understand what is acceptable for their buildings, and if something comes up they call the parents. Generally it's been amicable and hasn't been an issue.”
Sweeney is glad that students attending public school have opportunities to express themselves and show off nice clothing at events, but it's up to the principals to make sure things run smoothly and that includes the dress code.
“I've never had a principal call saying a girl has a too short of skirt on or a boy is showing too much chest hair or anything like that,” he said. “That goes back to the parents having a big part of helping us through this, making sure what their children wear when they leave the house is school appropriate.”
The glaring difference between these dress codes showed up at the Coos Bay School District, where there was no discretion left up to building principals.
Superintendent Bryan Trendell read out of the parent handbook, stating that neat and clean appearances are highly desirable, but that the district realizes styles of dress and grooming changes and should not be regulated by school edict.
Instead, the dress code tells students that they are expected to use good judgment and taste that a “majority of reasonable people consider appropriate for the occasion,” citing that they have the right to expect a productive school environment that is both healthy and safe.
The dress code asks that students help the district meet those expectations by coming to school dressed and groomed so as not to create a health and safety hazard, and should abide by health and safety rules and guidelines set by the state. It calls for no revealing clothing or those with offensive graphics or language, just as the Coquille and North Bend dress codes did.
“Our school board recognizes that with our policy fashion styles change over the course of time,” Trendell said. “Our dress code is detailed, but pretty simple.”
The Coos Bay School District has parents sign and initial the handbook at the beginning of the year. During the fall and again in the spring, when warm weather returns, the district puts out notifications and messages on its website and in newsletters reminding students and parents that the dress code should be followed.
“The most important thing is our students have a right to a safe place to receive education,” Trendell said.
Yesterday flags at the Coos Bay fire stations flew at half-staff, as they did all across the country, to commemorate the 343 firefighters who lost their lives during the 9/11 terrorist attack on the twin towers in 2001.
Sixteen years after the attack, Coos Bay Fire Chief Mark Anderson remembers the tragedy, “I was taking a class up in Monmouth when I heard about the attack. As a lot of people have said before, I was in complete disbelief and shock when I heard the news.”
In front of the Coos Bay Fire Administration building there is a piece of debris from the Twin towers that sits as a reminder of that tragic day.
The 118 pound piece of the World Trade Center was donated to the city of Coos Bay in 2011. It’s one of 1,200 pieces of debris that were donated to communities across the country by the Port Authority in New York and New Jersey.
“It’s a constant reminder, and a very visual reminder of the sacrifices that were made that day. I’ve never been to New York City, but I have been to other large cities like Portland and Chicago, and I can just imagine all of the destruction caused by a building of that size coming down,” Anderson said.
On a local level, the debris also reminds Anderson of Coos Bay’s own tragic fire in November 2002. Three firefighters were killed trying to put out a fire at an auto body shop when the building collapsed. Since then a memorial statue has been erected to convey the significance of their sacrifice, and the sacrifices of all firefighters lost in the line of duty.
“This is something we choose to do, but it’s really no more important than a school teacher,” Anderson said in reference to being a firefighter.
COOS COUNTY — The number of hungry Oregonians has declined.
That’s according to the USDA's 2016 Household Food Security Report released last week, which stated that 14.6 percent of the state’s residents are struggling to put food on the table, down from 16.1 percent in 2013 to 2015.
This is the largest one year drop in food insecurity that Oregon has experienced in the last decade, according to a news release from the Oregon Food Bank.
However, the decrease isn’t necessarily reflected in rural areas and small towns.
In Coos County, 25 percent of households participated in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) from 2011 to 2015, according to the Food Research and Action Center.
SNAP offers food assistance to low-income individuals and families.
Coos County has the third highest percentage of participants in the state, behind Malheur and Klamath counties, 27 and 26 percent respectively.
By comparison, 20 percent of Multnomah County's residents participated in the program.
Bryan Trendell, Coos Bay School District Superintendent, said the district’s free and reduced lunch numbers haven’t fluctuated very much in the last few years.
“I think rural Oregon isn’t necessarily a reflection of the entire state of Oregon,” Trendell said.
Currently, nearly 47 percent of Coos County’s students are eligible for free and reduced lunch.
In the Coos Bay School District those numbers are even higher.
At Madison Elementary School and Sunset School, around 80 percent of the student body has free and reduced lunch. At Blossom Gulch Elementary School and Marshfield High School those numbers are closer to 60 percent.
Trendell said rural Oregon’s numbers have stayed the same and even worsened in some cases. However, he said the recently-released data is encouraging.
“When we see it (numbers) come down there’s always hope that our numbers will come down a bit,” Trendell said.
Matt Newell-Ching with Partners for a Hunger-Free Oregon said there’s an increasing amount of families who need additional support.
“During this economic recovery, many of the jobs that are coming back are lower wage jobs,” Newell-Ching said, “The best solution to hunger are family-wage jobs and a strong economy in which income earners can earn enough to put food on the table.”
He said SNAP has an impact on a multitude of people, not just those receiving the benefits.
“That not only helps that family it also means more jobs at grocery stores, it means more income for farmers,” Newell-Ching said.
One in six Oregon residents participate in SNAP, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
A majority of those who participate are in the service industry, like cooks and home health aides.
“Invariably the workers who are receiving SNAP are the ones who are taking care of us,” Newell-Ching said.
While Oregon’s decreased numbers are encouraging for organizations attempting to combat food hunger in the state, the numbers are still high compared to the national rate of 12.3 percent.
“Oregon still has the highest rate of hunger in the Northwest,” Newell-Ching said, “For a state that prides itself in having a bounty, that bounty is not being shared equally.”
He said families will forgo fruits and vegetables for cheaper alternatives. Beyond that, if faced with paying rent or buying groceries, most will choose to pay rent.
“We care a lot about people who have to choose between rent and food,” Newell-Ching said.
Myrna Jensen with the Oregon Food Bank echoed that sentiment.
She said those who are categorized as having low food security are households that have had problems getting food and opt for lower quality items.
“So it’s boxes of mac n’ cheese, versus being able to create a more robust meal,” Jensen said.
According to Feeding America, there were 10,310 food insecure people in Coos County in 2015.
Those in the “very-low food security” category are cutting meals multiple times per week because they can’t afford food.
Oregon’s rate of very-low food security, had a negligible decline from 6.6 percent in 2013 to 2015 to 6.2 percent in 2014 to 2016.
For Jensen, a lot of information is anecdotal, because it’s hard to quantify some of the aspects of food insecurity.
“We know a lot of the stuff that we’re getting it’s more anecdotal, because some of this data is hard to come by,” Jensen said.
Jensen said organizations like the food pantry have to combat false stereotypes about the SNAP program, previously known as food stamps.
“We find that most people who are on SNAP or who are using the food pantry, they have a job,” she said, adding that there are time limits for how long someone can use the program and eligibility has to be verified.
For her, people utilizing the program is a positive.
“We know our SNAP usage is really high in Oregon,” Jensen said, “That’s actually a good thing, because we know that means that a lot of people are getting food.”
The Oregon Food Pantry as well as Partners for a Hunger-Free Oregon are concerned over talk of funding cuts to SNAP.
“We are concerned with the threats to cuts that this could have a devastating impact on rural Oregon,” Jensen said, “We envision more stress on our regional food banks should a SNAP cut come through.”