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High Schools Give Flip-Flops the Boot

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Senior Carah Depeter wears her soon-to-be-banned athletic sandals in the halls of Nyack High School in Nyack, New York. (Irene Plagianos/ CNS)

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Schools across the country are banning trendy flip-flops, a fashion staple for teen and pre-teen girls. (Irene Plagianos/ CNS)

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Schools across the country are banning trendy flip-flops, a fashion staple for teen and pre-teen girls. (Irene Plagianos/ CNS)

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Schools across the country are banning trendy flip-flops, a fashion staple for teen and pre-teen girls. (Irene Plagianos/ CNS)

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Schools across the country are banning trendy flip-flops, a fashion staple for teen and pre-teen girls. (Irene Plagianos/ CNS)

Like most of her friends, Carah Depeter, 17, slips on a pair of flip-flops when she goes, well, everywhere. “They’re so easy and comfortable,” said Depeter, a high-school senior in Nyack, N.Y. “So why wouldn’t I wear them all the time?”

For school administrators across the country, the answer to that question is simple: Flip-flopping through classrooms and hallways can be dangerous. Thong sandals have become a fashion staple in recent years, particularly among teenage and preteen girls. But more than a dozen schools from Florida to Massachusetts are banning the trendy footwear, citing concerns about safety, decorum and health.

Student safety was the major reason Depeter’s school, part of the Nyack Union Free School District, decided to prohibit all backless shoes this year, according to a school district spokesperson. If an emergency strikes, students wearing the flimsy footwear would have trouble getting out of the building quickly and safely, school officials said.

“Not to sound like an alarmist,” said Gloria Fleming, co-president of the Nyack High School parent-teacher association, “but we’ve had bomb scares, and when you’re trying to evacuate, wearing flip-flops just doesn’t seem like a good idea.”

Administrators are also worried about trips, falls, sprained ankles and stomped toes as students crowd the halls or rush up and down stairs. “They can slip and break their necks when they are wearing those flip-flops,” said Wanda Speede, vice principal of Randolph High School in Randolph, Mass. Speede’s district banned the cheap shower-shoe version of the sandal two years ago.

Some school districts that have prohibited flip-flops say they did so to promote a certain standard of decorum. “Flip-flops are for the beach, not a serious learning environment,” Speede said. “They’re just not appropriate in school.” School officials say they also fear that wearing the nonsupportive sandals all day, every day, is leading to a higher incidence of foot problems among young people.

Although doctors say there are no studies linking flip-flops to long-term health problems, anecdotal evidence suggests it can cause foot discomfort. “We’re seeing more heel pain than ever in patients 15 to 25 years old, a group that usually doesn’t have this problem,” said Marybeth Crane, a Texas podiatrist and a spokeswoman for the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons.

Flip-flops also provide little to no protection for the feet and can exacerbate tendinitis and arch pain, noted Dr. David Schofield, an Elmira, N.Y., podiatrist and former president of the American Podiatric Medical Association.

Despite good intentions, the bans, not surprisingly, have proved unpopular. Students, parents and even some administrators have challenged the restriction in many schools where the prohibition has been put into effect.

One school that has seen its ban challenged is Weymouth High School in Weymouth, Mass. Students there collected more than 500 signatures for a petition opposing a district-wide flip-flop ban three years ago and argued in front of the school board for their right to wear the sandals. The efforts failed, said Weymouth principal Marilyn Slattery, a self-proclaimed flip-flop aficionado. “The students put up a good fight initially, but obviously it didn’t work out,” Slattery said.

Now, said Slattery, she feels like the “fashion police,” she said. “It gets crazy trying to enforce the rule.”

But other schools have flip-flopped on the issue. The Hernando County School Board in Brooksville, Fla., reversed its yearlong ban in October 2006.

“We had a big problem clearly defining what a prohibited flip-flop was, and there was so much confusion, coupled with arguments from parents, students and faculty, it just wasn’t worth it,” said Jim Knight, director of student services.

The School District of Hillsborough County in Tampa, Fla., also ended its long-standing ban last year. “It’s still an issue of safety,” said Debi Veranth, the district’s administration director, “but it was just too overwhelming to stop kids from wearing them.”

Eventually, Veranth said, she’s hoping that “flip-flops will just go out of style.”

That won’t happen anytime soon, if Nyack is any indication. When the last bell rang on a warm fall day, students flip-flopped their way out of school in a variety of stylish sandals. Bright yellow rubber thongs sped past a pair of thick-soled flip-flops with green flowers embroidered on the straps.

Justine Machado, 15, wearing a simple black pair of the soon-to-be-contraband footwear, said the ban is unfair.

“It’s just ridiculous,” Machado said. “We want the right to free our feet.”

Gabriel Alvarez, 17, like many of her Nyack classmates, agreed and planned to protest her school’s putting the kibosh on her beloved footwear.

“You can fall in any shoe, especially, like, high heels, or trip over someone’s shoelace,” said Alvarez, a senior. “And really, we’re old enough to decide for ourselves.”

E-mail: ip86@columbia.edu