Bee Investigator

Gang colors put limits on Modesto high schools’ dress codes

Left to right, Beyer High School juniors Larissa Nieto, Daniel Smith and Cheyenne Murphy are pictured on campus during lunch Thursday. They answer questions about the school dress code.
Left to right, Beyer High School juniors Larissa Nieto, Daniel Smith and Cheyenne Murphy are pictured on campus during lunch Thursday. They answer questions about the school dress code.

My colleague’s son, a freshman at Beyer High School and self-described sneakerhead, was pretty excited about the red laces that came with his Nike brand KD 8 shoes. But then he remembered that despite Beyer’s patriotic school colors, he couldn’t wear them.

The two most common street gangs in the region, the Norteños and Sureños, claim the colors red and blue, spoiling the popular hues for the majority of Modesto high school students who have nothing to do with gangs.

Red or blue shoelaces, as well as belts of the same color, are banned across the Modesto City Schools district, and every high school has some kind of limitations related to the colors on other articles of clothing.

There are districtwide dress code policies that restrict showing too much skin like with crop tops and short shorts, wearing emblems that promote drugs or alcohol, or wearing any gang-related attire like bandanas.

Hats and caps are banned altogether, except in inclement weather when knit caps can be worn outdoors. Some high schools also have restrictions on gloves, like Gregori, where they can’t be worn with short sleeves.

Each school then has its own site-specific dress code adapted for the issues there.

There is a safety committee on each campus that reviews the school’s dress code at least once a year, adding new restrictions on disruptive trends and removing others that become obsolete. When new trends emerge related to gangs, the district often consults with experts with the Modesto Police Department before adding the item to the dress code policy, said Modesto City Schools spokeswoman Becky Fortuna.

Some campuses restrict any solid-colored red or blue clothing or limit the number of items that can contain the colors.

Regulations range from all-out restrictions on red or blue that can be seen on clothing from more than 25 feet away at the Elliott Alternative Education Center to more lenient policies like at Beyer, where students can wear up to two pieces of red or blue clothing.

Beyer Principal Dan Park said it isn’t difficult to show school spirit if the colors are combined. For example, a Sureño gang member isn’t going to wear a red shirt with blue pants.

Modesto police Street Gang Unit officer John Wesley said red and blue are a constant in gang-member clothing, whether they are dressed in it head to toe or showing the colors more discreetly, like on shoelaces.

This might not be common knowledge for every kid, but most understand the implications.

Downey High School Principal Richard Baum said, “We recognized that there are some students who are truly trying to fly the gang colors, and there are some students who are truly unaware, and we don’t want them to become a victim” based on the color of clothes they are wearing.

Lately, Wesley said, Norteños have also been wearing green, the color of the jumpsuits they wear while in custody at the Stanislaus County jail, and Sureños have been wearing all black shirts with black pants, a banned outfit only at Johansen High School.

He said particular brands popular among gang members, like with the general population, fall in and out of style.

Nike Cortez shoes, Ben Davis, Dickies and South Pole are among the barred brands on site-specific dress codes.

“That was like our fifth grade year those were popular,” Beyer junior Larissa Nieto said of the South Pole brand as she read through the dress code policy during lunch on Thursday.

“I think they need to redo the the list; it’s so old-fashioned,” said her friend Cheyenne Murphy.

The girls were less concerned about limitations on clothing associated with gangs and more interested in controls on the coverage their clothes provide.

Exposed bra straps were the most common offense among the female students with whom I spoke, and their male counterparts backed them up.

“I think girls should be able to dress how they feel; they shouldn’t be restricted,” said junior Gaven Rowland.

That’s unlikely, as administrators will tell you exposed undergarments and midriffs can be distracting to other students.

Whether the clothing is inappropriate because of its lack of material, promotion of illicit subject matter or gangs, principals say they are all dealt with in the least disruptive way possible.

Students are told to put on a sweater, turn the shirt inside out or change into gym clothes. If those options don’t work, every school has a reserve of cleaned gym clothes left over from the previous year, and Downey even has donated clothing for students who might not be able to afford replacing the banned clothing.

“Dress code enforcement can be time consuming, but it is important to maintain a safe environment,” Fortuna said.

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Examples of some site-specific dress code regulations:

Gregori: No gloves with short sleeves

Elliot: Hair cannot be dyed red or blue

Downey: No leather or batting gloves, Sacramento Kings or Chicago Bulls attire or LGR brand shirts with references to trees

Johansen: No distracting or disruptive makeup

Enochs: No red or blue corduroy house shoes