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Caped crusader: Middle-school fights for garment of yesteryear

ERICA RODRIGUEZ

By ERICA RODRIGUEZ
April 6, 2011 at 6:03 p.m.
Updated April 5, 2011 at 11:06 p.m.

Joey Ochoa, 14, a student at Cade Middle School, is petitioning the school board for the right to wear a cape to school.  Although the dress code does not strictly forbid it, many of his teachers have not allowed him to wear the cape in their classrooms.  Joey has written an argument titled "Cape Rights," which he delivered to the school board last month.

Before heading off to school, Joey Ochoa stuffs a neatly folded polyester cape in his backpack.

The cape is dark, falls to his knees when worn and feels like thin pajamas. On cool days, he sometimes smuggles it underneath his jacket and tucks it into his belt.

Campus administrators say the cape is against the dress code and forbade it, so Joey is on a crusade to get cape-wearing at Cade Middle School "legalized."

"It's not a very popular idea, but at one point capes were considered normal clothing," Joey said.

Joey, an articulate eighth-grader on the honor roll, believes he should be granted cape-wearing rights because the district dress code does not address capes.

"It was just comfy, and I couldn't see why I couldn't wear it to school," he said, adding that his mom doesn't let him wear it around town. "I think of it as just an article of clothing."

Joey first donned the cape in October when he dressed as the "Phantom of the Opera" for Halloween. A few days of cape-wearing landed him in the principal's office.

"Capes are not part of the dress code," said principal Lisa Blundell, who forbade the cape. "We allow the students to wear jackets and sweaters and hoodies."

Joey took his case to the school board, which recently discussed the enforcement of the dress code. He presented his "Cape Rights," a list of reasons why he should be allowed to wear the cape.

"They are not strictly forbidden in the dress code. They're not as much of a distraction as anything else not clearly in the dress code. They don't brush the floor. They're a solid color," he said.

Joey said he has no problem with the dress code - his shirt was tucked and his belt fastened for the interview - but he wants capes to get equal treatment.

"They should be treated equally as articles of clothing," he said.

Diane Boyett, district communications specialist, said special clothing situations such as cape-wearing can be deemed as a "distraction to the learning environment" and prohibited.

"If it violates the spirit of the dress code, then the campuses are within their rights," she said.

Dress code interpretation and enforcement differs drastically across campuses. As of March 23, Cade Middle School had less than 20 discipline referrals because of dress code violations, while Stroman Middle School had about 175. West High School had nearly 450 referrals, while East High School had slightly fewer than 50.

Lou Svetlik, who represents Joey's district on the school board, said he doesn't know whether he'll support adding capes to the code and would not comment on whether he thought capes were a distraction.

"I think the standardized dress policy has been a very much positive step in helping to promote an environment of learning and expected student behavior," Svetlik said.

The board reviewed a set of recommendations on how campus administrators wanted to modify the code March 24. It could vote on accepting the changes at a later meeting, but those changes did not address capes.

"When we go through the final review, if it's brought to the board, then we'll see all the changes proposed," Svetlik said.

Meanwhile, Joey said he will continue to rally for the cape cause. He's already collected more than 80 signatures from "cape advocates" throughout school.

"I've never really been one to give up easily," he said. "I've always been really stubborn."

Many of Joey's teachers were supportive, but others turned him in.

"The people who agree with me help; they give me friendly advice," he said. "Those who don't agree either don't say anything or tell me how stupid it is."

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