Shakopee Middle School sees its share of students showing up in sagging pants, low-cut tops and other questionable clothes. But if the principal has his way, next year, they'll all wear red or black T-shirts.

The school is considering a stricter dress code for next year that Principal Mike Neubeck says would foster community spirit -- red and black are the school's colors -- while removing distractions posed by inappropriate attire.

The resulting controversy marks the latest skirmish in the age-old war over what kids should wear to school. Taking a stand against spaghetti-strap tank-tops and exposed boxer shorts, many metro-area schools have enforced more stringent dress codes in recent years. Other schools have turned to uniforms, saying they lessen discipline problems and create a sense of community.

In Shakopee, Neubeck says standardized T-shirts would help eliminate potential safety hazards from students wearing gang colors or hiding weapons under their clothes, as well as brand labels that can separate poor and rich students. Besides, "90 percent of our kids wear T-shirts already," he said.

While the principal said an unofficial tally of a parent survey found about 70 percent support for the idea, not everybody is enthusiastic.

"If you ask me, he's a little bit trying to take over the school, like change it into a private school when it's a public school," said sixth-grader Brianna Helgemo.

The principal has taken the concept to families at parent-teacher conferences and orientation meetings in the past few weeks.

Parents who support the idea include Kellie Thompson, who said standardized T-shirts would mean that "everyone's on the same playing field with clothes."

Others objected, including Jeanna Harder, who has a daughter in sixth grade. "The entire student body should not be punished because of someone else's poor choices or because of the school's inability" to deal with them, she said.

One particularly unpopular idea: Officials have talked about requiring the shirts to be tucked in, drawing complaints from people who think that's unfashionable or would make overweight students uncomfortable.

The school may drop the idea, even though tucked-in shirts would make it harder for students to sag their pants or hide weapons, Neubeck said.

If school officials decide they want to order the shirts, they will seek approval from the Shakopee school board, he said.

The school's dress code already bans sagging or holey pants, short shorts and clothing with "inappropriate" messages such as symbols related to gangs or drugs. Torsos and shoulders must be covered, and clothes can't be worn in a way that disrupts learning.

Students have been "pretty good" about following the dress code this year, Neubeck said, but enforcing it can put teachers in the awkward position of having to define, for example, exactly how low-cut a girl's shirt has to be before it breaks the rules.

The school would order shirts, perhaps with a small logo on the chest, and sell them during orientation in August. Short-sleeved shirts would probably sell for about $5, with long-sleeved shirts going for $8, Neubeck said.

Families could choose to buy their own plain black or red shirts, he said, and students also could wear shirts designed by school groups such as the student council or band.

Sarah Lemagie • 952-882-9016