Copyright © 1998 Henrietta W. Hay
Henrietta Draws the Line -- Sort Of
June 5, 1998
A line is the shortest distance between two points. In geometry it is
straight, but in life it is often wavy and very thin.
In recent weeks there have been several Colorado news stories with
questions which have no easy answers. I keep looking for the line
between two answers when both can be right. Where is the line between
tradition and personal freedom, between rigidity and flexibility.
Where, in this modern world, do we draw the line?
F'rinstance. Four Arvada High School seniors wanted to wear Ghanian
Kente cloths as scarves or sashes over their robes at graduation. The
school administration refused the request, since school policy required
traditional unadorned caps and gowns. On the one side, the
multi-colored, hand-woven Kente cloth was worn by royalty and chiefs in
Ghana. The students wanted to show pride in their heritage. On the
other side, long American tradition dictates caps and gowns as symbols
graduation. Only emblems of scholastic achievement are generally
allowed on the plain robes.
The students challenged the ruling on First Amendment grounds. Judge
Richard Matsch ruled that the dress code is meant to preserve the unity
of the graduation ceremony and unity is "a legitimate governmental
I think that Judge Matsch drew the line very wisely. He said, "I am
disturbed that although the Kente cloth is clearly identified with the
African culture and background of the plaintiffs, it is also identified
with race . . . and that is a sensitive area. We ensure the operation
of public schools without racial identification. The school says it has
an interest in unity. That's the other side of diversity, although they
are not mutually exclusive."
In a straw vote I took last week the results were pretty close, with a
small majority on the side of tradition. But the minority was pretty
positive in its defense of freedom of expression. Unity or diversity?
Both are right. Where is the line?
Another example of the wavy line had to do with rules and customs. A
group of 7th and 8th graders from Cherry Creek District's Challenge
school had a jaunt to Paris. The tour company got waivers from most of
the parents allowing the students to have "a small amount" of wine with
dinner. But the school has a zero-tolerance policy for alcohol
consumption in any activity related to the school. The principal who
accompanied the kids was banished to a teaching job in another school.
Later the principal was reinstated. In his letter to parents he said
that, "These policies are established to ensure students' safety, a
crucial part of our work as educators."
In theory, zero tolerance rules would produce a straight line. But
since zero tolerance removes the necessity for common sense, which is
not all that common, and judgment, we have two sides to this incident
Sometimes the wavy line gets pretty silly. There was the Bra Bust at
Ranum High School. The girls 4x440 relay team was disqualified for the
state track meet because three of the girls were wearing black sports
bras and the fourth girl was wearing a white one under her uniform tank
top. The referee, obviously very observing,
noticed and disqualified the team in accordance with CHSAA rules. He
added that different colored bras are distracting, but he didn't say to
How far must we go to have uniformity in athletic uniforms? The coach
(a smart man) was quoted as saying that he didn't feel that it was his
place to inspect bra color before track meets. Wonder who checks the
The line here is between rules and common sense, which is not too
common. This one is not hard. I'm for the girls. Let 'em wear
whatever color they want.
A line is the shortest distance between two points, but in real life it
isn't always very clear or very straight. Fortunately, we live in a
country where wavy lines are allowed and sometimes people on both sides
can be right.