ORLANDO, Fla. -- Florida state Sen. Gary Siplin has been trying for years to get kids to pull up their trousers. Now, it looks as if his "baggy pants" bill finally will become law.
How much effect it will have is another question. All school districts in Central Florida and others throughout the state already have dress codes that prohibit students from showing off their underwear -- or worse.
But Siplin, a Democrat, thinks the ban should be more than just a school or a district policy. He wants the force of state law behind it.
"(The public) is tired of seeing underwear. It's nasty and dirty," Siplin said.
Siplin's bill would ban students from wearing clothes that expose underwear or "body parts" on campus during school hours. It flew through the Senate, and a similar bill is making its way through the House.
He first introduced a bill in 2005 that would criminalize droopy pants, making it a second-degree misdemeanor punishable up to $50 fine and 10 days in jail.
Organizations such as the Florida NAACP blasted the bill as discriminatory, saying it targeted largely minority students. Legislators shut down his proposal several times. They questioned the need for a law because principals have authority to discipline kids for dress-code violations.
"It's finally hit them (legislators) that what Sen. Siplin is doing is not a joke," Siplin said.
"It must be part of our politics to teach our kids how to get a job. And dressing (appropriately) should be part of that," he added.
A student caught with his pants down for the first time would receive a verbal warning. Parents will get a call from the principal.
After a second offense, the student would not be allowed to take part in extracurricular activities for no more than five days. The principal also would call a meeting with the parents.
Further violations would require a maximum three-day in-school suspension, 30-day expulsion from extracurricular activities and a letter to the parents.
The punishment is meant to keep kids in school, Siplin said.
However, critics say it would still interfere with students' learning.
Although the maximum penalty would be in-house suspension, "it would create an opportunity to interfere in the quality of their education," said Danielle Prendergast, public policy director with the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida.
The bill would disproportionally affect minorities, particularly black students, Prendergast said. "Look at the pop culture. Who wears the pants low?" she argued.
Siplin, who is black, argued: "It's not confined to minorities. I'm sure you've seen white kids do it."
The droopy-drawers style started in the 1990s, originating with prisoners who were not allowed to wear belts. It caught on with girls, too, who liked their thongs to stretch out of their low-rise jeans.
Orange and Lake school districts several years ago adopted dress codes that barred the underwear-as-outerwear fashion from campus. Seminole County tightened the dress code a year ago, banning baggy pants, revealing clothes and T-shirts with sexy sayings, among other things.
Meanwhile, Osceola County Public Schools has the region's most restrictive code. It requires uniforms that include khaki or navy pants and polo shirts.
There is no districtwide dress code in Volusia County. Schools set their own policies, but "none of our schools tolerate baggy pants," said Nancy Wait, the district's spokeswoman.
Siplin's bill would supersede all school dress-code policies. It would depend on school administrators and teachers to enforce the law. Although many schools have policies in place that ban baggy pants, Siplin said officials are "afraid to enforce it because it's not a law."
The law would give "teeth" to enforcing dress codes, said Jim Miller, a school board member in Lake County.
"It makes a lot of sense to me. A lot of kids will be able to do a lot more with two hands," he said, referring to kids who have to hold onto their saggy pants to prevent them from falling. Miller has pushed for school uniforms since he was elected in August. "If we did uniforms, these things would go away," he said.
Prendergast disagreed that the bill is good for schools.
"Adding the role as fashion police to teachers and administrators, we don't think that's wise," she said.
Similar bills have been pushed, many by black officials, across the country to teach kids about respect and discipline.
"But this is not the way to do it. There are other ways you can foster a sense of pride and discipline," she said.
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