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The battle over belt loops, saggy pants gets literal

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By Tom Flanigan

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/wfsu/local-wfsu-971368.mp3

Tallahassee, FL – This year, Florida lawmakers finally passed a bill giving public school districts the power to ban droopy pants worn by students. But Tom Flanigan reports a creative trio is trying to get kids to change their behavior and fashion sense through gentle persuasion instead of legal sanctions.

It seems every generation has its own fashion fads. Bell bottoms, sweat bands, platform shoes, backwards ball caps ..these and countless other trends have had their usually brief moments in the not-so-distant past. But College Professor Maurice McBride says the pants-at-half-mast phenomenon has been around for a surprisingly long time.

"It starts as a child. I've notice that some students at the college where I teach are wearing their pants in such a manner that's inappropriate and so I approached them. I said, Why do you wear your pants this way?' and their response to me was, I've always worn my pants this way. I don't know why.'"

Fellow educator Dr. Jessica Wallace was seeing the same thing. Many young people were now so used to wearing and seeing sagging pants, they considered this normal and appropriate apparel. This was not the case in the larger world, however:

"These sagging pants are costing these children and young adults in ways that they're not aware of. No one's necessarily walking up and saying, I'm treating you this way because of this, or I believe you're a certain way because of this, or I'm denying you this opportunity because of how you look.' No one's saying that and the young people aren't always interpreting the act of denial or the negative response they're getting as something being related to how they dress."

And for too many of these young people, there are no grownups in their lives who will sit them down and talk about what kinds of clothes are appropriate in different situations. So McBride and Wallace came up with a stand-in a book character named "Oliver Vance".

"The Oliver Vance project is a character education program in which Oliver Vance himself, in the form of a mascot, goes out into the community and interacts with children in schools, churches, community organizations and so forth. The book is just the catalyst for the program."

But Oliver couldn't be just any old character. He had to be someone that his young audience could related to and identify with. So McBride and Wallace called in noted illustrator Anthony Jackson.

"I wanted to create an image for the kids and for Maurice because I know that they love Nickelodeon, they love the Disney Channel, so I wanted to give them something that would kind of relate to something that they would see on Nickelodeon or the Disney Channel. Something that they would enjoy looking at, instead of just something just saying, harassing at us or fussing at us because we're wearing our clothes down. At least something fun for them to look at where they can laugh and have a good time when they read the book."

Professor McBride says that's the whole idea not to threaten, nag or preach. But to connect with young people and engage them with Oliver Vance and his droopy pants with a simple message about choices.

"If you can deal with the consequence, no problem. But if you can't deal with the consequence, then think about what you're doing, know why you're doing it. And I think Oliver's going to do a great job in getting that point across."

A point that will be needed more than ever in a state where droopy drawers in school will be a legal matter.