GANGS - School policies take hard line

Apparel and behavior are targeted in local district policies.

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WALLA WALLA -- Most local schools adhere to a "zero tolerance" approach to gang activity. Students can't be disciplined simply for belonging to a gang, but any gang activity -- wearing known gang attire, making gang-related sketches or flashing signs during school -- is grounds for action.

Walla Walla Public Schools Board Policy 3224 on school dress codes notes gang attire as a hazard to other students. The policy regards dress that connotes possible membership in a gang or hate group as a "health or safety hazard."

Gang-related apparel is listed as a prohibited conduct, along with lewd, sexual, drug, tobacco or alcohol-related messages.

The policy notes:

"Such procedures shall ensure that any student wearing, carrying or displaying gang-related apparel, or exhibiting behavior or gestures which symbolize gang membership, or causing and/or participating in activities which intimidate or affect the attendance of another student shall be asked, with notice to his or her parents/guardians, to make appropriate corrections and be subject to discipline if the corrections are not undertaken."

The Columbia School District includes a category on gang activity under Policy 3240 on student conduct.

It states: "A student shall not knowingly engage in gang activity on school grounds," and provides the legal definition of a gang as "a group of three or more persons with identifiable leadership which, on an ongoing basis, regularly conspires and acts in concert mainly for criminal purposes."

At the core of the rules and enforcement -- resource officers and security guards in schools, surveillance cameras in Walla Walla high schools, dress codes, etc. -- are two primary purposes: to make sure all students feel safe and secure while at school or school functions, and to keep students focused on learning.

Maria P. Gonzalez can be reached at mariagonzalez@wwub.com or 526-8317. Check out her blog at blogs.ublabs.org/schoolhousemissives.

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