Cap and frown

SFUSD considers allowing hats in schools, ending a policy discouraging cultural indicators

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Guardian illustration by Jen Oaks

joe@sfbg.com

Just in time for baseball season, Giants hats may be allowed back into San Francisco public schools. A new Board of Education resolution may change the school district dress code to allow hats to be worn indoors in classrooms, a resolution that is also sparking conversations about cultural sensitivity.

The resolution, which the board will likely vote on April 8, would eliminate a San Francisco Unified School District no-hats policy, allowing schools to set their own dress codes individually as long as they've considered community input.

Some schools currently allow hats in schools in violation of district policy, but others have no-hat rules due to long standing conflation of hats with gang clothing, Board of Education Commissioner Matt Haney, who authored the resolution, told us.

"Our students should not be treated as a threat or a gang member because they wear hats," Haney said. "If the message we send to them is that the way they dress in their communities is somehow a threat, we should not be sending that message as a school system."

Hats seem like an unlikely starting point for a discussion about race and social justice, but Haney connects freedom of dress to the story of Trayvon Martin, whose tragic slaying many connected to negative assumptions due to wearing a hoodie, sparking a national "Million Hoodie Movement for Justice."

Haney said allowing hats in classrooms is one step of many ensuring students know they're accepted, and not viewed as a threat.

"When I went to a middle school to visit, they asked 'why we can't wear hats?' I said it's because people may think they're in gangs," Haney told the Guardian. "They looked at me like they had never heard anything so crazy or disrespectful in their lives."

In a world where some people view those dressed in a simple hoodie as a reason to fear a teenager, the change in dress code rules could be seen as rebellious. But not everyone is a fan.

"I'm both ways on it," Jackie Cohen, co-founder of the student tutoring program 100 Percent College Prep Institute, told the Guardian. "They should be able to express themselves as young people, but I don't think they're ready for the consequences that come with it."

The institute offers many workshops to youth in the Bayview, but one offered last October taught kids to be what Cohen calls a "social chameleon." The class taught code switching, when Cohen as how people change behavior based on social surroundings.

It's a concept that youth of color in her neighborhood grapple with every day. Do they wear a hoodie to a job interview? A hat in the classroom? How much slang should be used in any given conversation? How does the media portray them?

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Teenage (and younger) members of 100 Percent College Prep Institute learn about code switching from adult peers in a workshop held in October. Photo courtesy of Jackie Cohen.

San Franciscans were treated to a glaring moment of code-switching violation at last year's NFC championship, when the 49ers were defeated by the Seattle Seahawks, whose cornerback Richard Sherman dissed 49ers player Michael Crabtree loudly in a TV interview, shouting, "Well, I'm the best corner in the game! When you try me with a sorry receiver like Crabtree, that's the result you gonna get! Don't you ever talk about me."