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School Hat Bans vs. Skin Cancer: A melanoma research group is pushing a bill to allow students to wear caps outdoors.

By Kevin Yamamura
Bee Capitol Bureau
(Published May 16, 2001)

A skin cancer awareness group may force schools to rethink their dress code policies with legislation that would overturn strict bans on hats.

Many California schools have prohibited caps because of fears of inciting gang and clique divisions. The bill, SB 310 by state Sen. Don Perata, D-Alameda, would require schools to allow hats outdoors but give administrators discretion over their appropriateness.

While skin-protection issues are driving the bill, the proposal steps into the murkier debate of school-level dress policies. The Association of California School Administrators is opposing the measure.

Hat bans have spread over the past 15 years, prompted by tensions over caps of different colors and group affiliations. Proponents of the hat bill acknowledged school decorum issues but said students nonetheless should be able to protect themselves from the sun.

"It's amazing how many parents say they can't believe (a bill) has to be done to protect children," said Kathy Graham, who heads the William S. Graham Foundation for Melanoma Research, the bill's sponsor. "We've lost track of some good common sense."

Graham started the foundation in 1996, two years after her son, Billy, died at age 22 of melanoma, a sun-related skin cancer.

SB 310 passed the Senate last Thursday and needs approval from the Assembly and Gov. Gray Davis before it can take effect. Davis has no position, officials said.

Graham asserted that the bill is about sun protection and skin cancer education. But for students, hats are about looks.

"We wear hats for the same reason we style our hair," said Peter Trudeau, a 16-year-old student sporting a black leather porkpie hat at La Entrada Continuation High School in Foothill Farms.

Lunch hour brought out a diverse headgear collection Tuesday at La Entrada, among the few area schools that still allow hats. Students wore baseball caps, backward bills and visors.

Such items are allowed at La Entrada because the school's 135 students are manageable and rarely flout the hat rules, said Principal Ivory Rubin.

But he helped institute a hat ban at Encina High School before coming to La Entrada eight years ago. He said students in the mid-1980s started wearing certain colors or putting gang names on hats. Using an outright ban, he said, proved more reasonable because of the "inordinate time" necessary to enforce a partial restriction.

In Elk Grove, Laguna Creek High School has banned hats since the school's inception six years ago.

Besides gangs, "there's also a concern that hats identify kids in cliques," Vice Principal Cathy Guy said.

Guy suggested allowing only hats with Laguna Creek logos if Perata's bill passes. But if what Trudeau said is true -- that hats are all about style -- such a policy could prove ineffective if unpopular hats are the only ones offered.

Perata said he expects to work with schools to define policies.

"I would hope that a lot of principals would have the attitude that if you're 13 years old and you want to wear a (Nike) swoosh, you're going to wear a swoosh," he said. "For all this stuff, people have to use their heads."

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