Whenever schools act like jails, they get into trouble, it seems to me. So why do so many schools forbid the wearing of hats inside school buildings?

I raised that question in a column early this month and recounted the answer I once got from the principal of a large Fairfax County high school.

"Because they are disruptive," she said.

That brought scoffs from this corner. When a child wears a hat into a school, the child is just trying to be different, I argued.

Sure, if a hat bears a message that's obscene or inflammatory, it has to go. But if a child wants to wear an innocuous piece of head wear, why come down so hard on the wearer? All you do is embitter the child and poison the atmosphere.

Once again, I have proved to be the best friend the U.S. Postal Service ever had. Mail on the subject of hats in school has rained down. Almost none of it backed my position.

Let's begin with messages from students themselves. The letter I got from Robert Ruppa, 17, of Herndon, was especially well argued.

"A school is where I go to learn. It shouldn't be where I go to parade every loyalty, theory and allegiance I might have, or might wish others to think I have," Robert wrote.

"You might think that if I wear an Orioles cap to school, it's just an innocent cheer for a baseball team. In fact, it's an attempt to divert someone's eyes, and someone's attention.

"I am not wearing the cap so I can have a private communion with a baseball team. I am wearing it so that some girl will think I'm cool, or some boy will think I'm a great baseball player. It has nothing to do with what happens in the classroom -- so it's the enemy of what happens in the classroom."

Gilbert Mark, of Alexandria, said that hats lead directly to disruption in classrooms.

"My school used to allow them, because everyone objected to the previous rule: that girls could wear hats, but boys couldn't. So for one semester, the school allowed everyone to wear any kind of hat they wanted.

"But this was a disaster because boys would march into class with baseball caps facing front. Then they'd spend the entire class taking off the caps, putting them on backwards, pulling the bills down over their foreheads, fiddling with the bills, fiddling with the clasps in the back, doing everything except what they should have been doing."

Marilee Jenson, of Bethesda, said the "one good thing about letting people wear hats in school would be so we wouldn't have to look at the dye jobs boys use on their hair. Now there's an atrocity!"

Marilee said she's against hat-wearing in school because it's "fundamentally unnecessary. I wear a sweater to school if I'm cold. But most people aren't hoping to wear hats to school because their heads are cold. It's a way to attract attention, that's all."

Teachers weighed in on the hats issue by the dozen.

Micki Palmer has been an elementary school teacher for seven years, usually in kindergarten. She said hat-wearers in her schools wore something else, too, even at young ages: an attitude.

"When I was at a school that allowed all students to wear hats indoors, they found that many students would wear their hats so low [that] they couldn't see what was going on.

"When asked to raise their hats, the children usually copped an attitude. The same thing happened when kids wore hats backwards. They were more mouthy and disruptive than usual. No more hats, no more problems."

Carlo J. Salzano, of Arlington, echoed a point made by many readers when he asked: "What about manners?

"[W]hen I was growing up, I was taught that gentlemen always uncovered their heads (or took off their hats) when entering a building -- house, church, elevator or even a school.

"It appears that we have become so fearful of hurting Little Junior's feelings that we're neglecting our responsibility to teach common, ordinary politeness."

Paul A. Stilp, of Alexandria, said a no-hat policy works in bars as well as it works in schools.

A former bartender, Paul said he once worked in a place that "you would call rough." As soon as the management instituted a no-hats policy, "fights, thrown beer bottles, etc. dropped dramatically."

Paul also noted that hats are often used to identify gang members -- as several principals also pointed out. I don't entirely buy that argument, because gang members can surely tell their comrades (as well as their enemies) without hats. Still, head wear could certainly be a flash point.

Last word goes to Barb Glozik, of Laurel, who passed along an excellent reason for no hats in schools.

Barb reported that Janice Mills, principal of Laurel High School, insists on a no-hats policy because a hat will instantly identify a person who doesn't belong in the school.

Of course, anyone truly bent on disrupting Laurel High School or harming someone there could just leave the chapeau at home. But I'm sure this policy has avoided many incidents (or potential ones) over the years. Thanks, Laurel folks, for pushing me into the Finally Persuaded category.