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May 1, 2008

Shave your eyebrows or go home


Casey Parks reported in the April 28, 2008 Oregonian that students at Centennial High School in Portland, Oregon who shaved vertical lines into their eyebrows have been banned from school until they shave them off completely.

Here's the story.

    Teens shaving lines in eyebrows raise gang concerns in schools

    Students are told to fill in or buzz off shaved eyebrows

    Andy Gonzalez was studying for a science test at Centennial High School when a school security guard told him to go home.

    It was his eyebrows, the security guard said. Gonzalez, a Cuban American junior in stylishly baggy clothes, had shaved a vertical line down the center of each eyebrow. They look like a gang symbol, the security guard said, adding, "If you're going to come to school like that, don't come at all."

    But Gonzalez, 17, isn't in a gang, he says, and only shaved the lines to look cool. Like other teens across the metro area, he's sporting the latest fashion trend, spotted from Cleveland to Reynolds high schools, particularly among Latino and African American students.

    At Centennial, however, administrators are telling students who shave the lines that they can't return to school until they take care of the problem — by shaving their eyebrows off. Four students have been sent home — one came back immediately with a bandage covering the shaved brow. The others are still out of school.

    Assistant Principal Mark Porterfield said the students are not suspended, but they are not allowed in school until they cooperate.

    "We just saw a little of it and reacted to it," Porterfield said. "Just like if a student had gang-related clothing, we want to keep that out of the schools."

    Rappers from Vanilla Ice to this year's reigning hip-hop champ, Soulja Boy [top], have sported shaved brows. But police say gangs have co-opted the trend for their own use. In this case, Gresham police say members of Southside 13, a prominent Latino gang in east Multnomah County, are marking themselves by shaving one line into an eyebrow and three lines in the other to symbolize 13.

    "We don't dictate policy for any schools," said Officer David Schmidt of the East Multnomah County Gang Enforcement Team. "We just tell them what we see the latest trends are. This is a way for them to identify each other. In a school setting, it intimidates other kids."

    Porterfield said Centennial implemented the rule after other area high schools, including Gresham, did.

    Gresham High officials said their policy is slightly different. They only look for the 13 style and would not send students home for having different shavings. If students did shave the symbols into their eyebrows, Gresham administrators say, they would ask them to fill in the marks with an eyebrow pencil.

    Administrators at other schools — including Reynolds High and Grant High — say they have not had any problems with students shaving gang symbols into their eyebrows.

    Centennial's policy does not specifically outlaw shaved eyebrows but does say administrators can change policy when advised by law enforcement.

    If Gonzalez wants to return to school — "Of course I do," he said — he'll have to do something decidedly uncute: Shave the rest of his eyebrows off.

    "But I don't want to do that," he says. "I'd be humiliated."

    Students say they are getting different, confusing signals about what is allowed and when they can return. They also say officials have not announced to students the rule or the sanctions for violating it.

    Assistant principal Porterfield told junior Jasiel Carmona that he could return if he colored his eyebrows in with makeup, but a security guard told him that wasn't good enough. He'd have to shave them off.

    David Fidanque, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon, said schools are required to have clear rules.

    "Most school districts have general rules that prohibit gang behavior and attire," he said. "What may be viewed as gang behavior can change quickly. There is some leeway, but it can be very tricky because the rules do have to be clear. If a student is going to be suspended or expelled, they need to know what the rule is before they're punished for violating them."

    Shaved eyebrows aren't the only fashion trend used as gang symbols, Schmidt said. Across the metro area, teens wear price tags and size stickers on their hats. Schmidt says some use the hat sizes to signify their gang status.

    But not everyone who wears the tags is in a gang, Schmidt says. Because gang symbols and general fashion can closely resemble each other, Schmidt says, the police look for specific factors.

    "Never just one thing identifies a gang member," Schmidt says. "We don't walk up to kids and say, 'Hey your eyebrow is carved, we're going to mark you as a gang member.' We go by a combination of things. Otherwise, you could have a kid who is wearing blue and maybe just likes blue and doesn't associate it with a gang."

    Back at Centennial, Gonzalez is still out of school. He says shaving his eyebrows was a natural progression from the patterns he used to shave in his hair.

    The lines he shaved above his eyes were meant to impress, not intimidate.

    "It's just for the ladies," Gonzalez said. "They think it looks cute."


"... the students are not suspended, but they are not allowed in school until they cooperate."

A rose by any other name....

May 1, 2008 at 04:01 PM | Permalink


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