Longstanding concerns stemming from an incident of bullying well over a decade ago have prompted El Portal Middle School officials to curtail the wearing of Escalon ‘Outlaws’ football jerseys by players from the youth football organization.
Typically, students playing for a team have worn the jerseys on Fridays, as their older counterparts at Escalon High School wear their Cougar jerseys on game days.
But students last week at El Portal were told they couldn’t wear them, prompting some parents of students to question the policy.
“Other years they have let them wear them,” parent Jessica Rozevink pointed out.
She said her son, who now plays for the Outlaws, is one of those affected by the jersey ban.
“He played for Big Valley for years and wore his jersey, there was never a problem,” she said. “Now he plays for Escalon, for the Outlaws, and he can’t wear it? It is not against the dress code to wear any jersey.”
Escalon Unified School District Superintendent Ron Costa said each school in the district has the right to enforce certain dress code requirements.
“There were issues of bullying and harassment of students that were taking place on campus by team members of the Outlaws,” Costa said of the long ago incident. “This would happen when they were wearing their jerseys and hanging around as a group. At that time, school site administration determined that the wearing of Outlaw jerseys was causing an issue at school so the school limited the wearing of Outlaw jerseys. This has been in place since that time.”
Costa said El Portal administrators met with Outlaws president Milo Alvarado and discussed a compromise that would allow the players to wear the Outlaws jerseys for home games.
“If there are no problems of bullying and harassment, I believe the school would be open to allowing the wearing of jerseys more frequently,” Costa added.
Rozevink, meanwhile, said many Outlaws parents didn’t understand why allowing them to wear them for home games would be any different than also wearing them on ‘away’ game weeks. She planned to speak at the Tuesday night, Sept. 4 school board meeting – held after The Times went to press – and hoped to get some answers regarding the issue. She said several parents had indicated they would turn out for the meeting in support.
“The El Portal dress code says that in issues that are subjective, the Principal shall be the final authority,” Costa added. “Students playing on other teams are able to wear their jerseys because there has not been an issue of bullying or harassment from students wearing other team jerseys. Also, our job is to ensure that students remain safe and are not bullied or harassed at school. Our job as school administrators is to make school a safe place for all.”
Rozevink said she understands why the jerseys were initially banned, when the harassment occurred and supports that original decision, but feels that students now shouldn’t be punished for those that created the problem years ago.