Thursday, August 18, 2005

Community reacts to school uniform concept

Staff Writer

About 35 parents and students let the Marshall County School Board of Trustees know how they feel about school uniforms at the August 9 board meeting.

Parents’ and students’ reactions are mixed, but the board seems to be leaning in favor of uniforms. No decision has been made on when uniforms would be required, if the board does adopt a policy.

Parents at the meeting were clear with the board that they do not want a uniform policy in effect before August 2006.

The school district is already gathering information about what would be included in a uniform dress code requirement from school workers, according to Don Randolph, superintendent.

Byhalia parent Donna White said uniforms had been tried before at Byhalia schools and met opposition due to prices.

Parents believe they can dress their kids for school cheaper by shopping wisely, many said.

Barry Owens of Byhalia said he is all for uniforms but displeased that the school district did not roll the uniform policy out before school let out in May 2005. He has already bought his childrens’ school clothes and does not want the uniform requirement set in place in January 2006.

“Kids don’t want uniforms for Christmas,” he said.

Owens proposed exempting seniors from the uniform policy, if one is adopted because he said, “They are special.”

“But you still would have a dress code for seniors,” he said.

Potts Camp mother Leatha Lawson questioned the purpose of uniforms.

“Are they doing better when they wear it?” she asked. “I’m against it. Clothes don’t make a difference.”

Byhalia parent Rhonda Smith did not think uniforms would raise academic performance. She also thought the district should have discussed uniforms last spring rather than in July when many parents have already done a good deal of shopping for clothes.

Smith said parents should not have to pay $18 for the mandatory physical education outfits. Smith was unhappy with the mesh shorts and pointed to the school dress code that states that mesh clothing is not to be worn at school. She said liners should have been included in the shorts so students’ undergarments would not be visible.

“I have a problem with the see-through shorts at school,” she said.

“The PE clothes could have been purchased elsewhere much cheaper than at school.”

In an interview after the meeting, Smith said she is concerned that students don’t have books to take home in every subject. Their parents cannot help them with homework if books cannot be brought home, she said.

“I would rather give $18 for school books than uniforms,” she said. “Forget uniforms; get books.”

Her children said Byhalia schools do not have enough books in social studies and science and math this year. So the books are kept in the classroom.

Randolph explained that the shorts and shirts were ordered in order to get students to participate in PE.

“It is a necessity to have uniforms for PE,” he said.

Cathy Owens, a Byhalia mother with two daughters in high school, argued that teachers should have to wear uniforms, too.

Her daughter Molly, a senior, said the penalties for not meeting dress code should also be clear in the school’s policy. She said in an interview after the meeting she believes the uniform policy is a “poorly conceived plan.”

“When you take away your freedom to appropriately express yourself (in terms of taste and personality), what do you have left?” she said.

Lisa Gullage, a parent with children attending H.W. Byers, believes most parents there want uniforms. Byers parents want green and gold uniforms to match the school’s colors, she said.

Carolyn Johnson, a parent from Potts Camp, asked that Mary Reid School also have red and black uniforms, matching school colors.

Thomas Barrett, father of three at Potts Camp, wished uniforms had been brought up last spring and set into effect this fall. He said a lot of parents with limited incomes could have avoided the pressure to buy expensive clothes if uniforms had been available.

School board president Pat Woods told parents that the school district has appointed an advisory committee, consisting of parents and staff, to put together ideas regarding uniforms. The committee has compiled a rough draft document which he said includes “the goods, the bads, the indifferents.”

Randolph said he prefers one uniform color selection for all schools.

“I would like to add, if I was a board member, I’d like a color for the entire county,” he said.

Woods said he is for uniforms but has concerns about hardships (costs) it could place on some parents.

Trustee Barbara Pipkin, who represents the Potts Camp area, said most parents who have called her regarding uniforms say they have already bought school clothing.

“And they want specific colors,” she said. “And their children do not want clothes for Christmas. I think they would accept it more readily if they could pick colors.”

Trustee Queen Dean said she has received no calls from parents but she thinks Galena School would like to keep uniforms and the colors they had before.

Dean said she has compassion for parents who have already bought bargain items. She believes some parents will not have the money for uniforms.

“How are we going to help them?” she asked.

Trustee Harvey Garrison reported calls. He favors school colors.

Terry Rodgers, trustee for the Byhalia area schools, said he is for uniforms and thinks school colors would be great.

He wants the school district to clearly and carefully consider what means would be used for enforcement of the uniform policy.

Woods said his biggest concern is when the date would be set for uniforms to go into effect. He likes letting schools pick their colors and said he wants to be fair to parents.

“No dates have been set, but the public thinks they have,” said Rodgers.

Members of the audience pressed the board of trustees for a decision.

“Wait until next year,” said one.

“People spent money already,” said another. “I’ve got three children, too.”

Trustees said the school district has a dress code now which it expects principals to enforce.

“There should be no exceptions to the current dress code. Principals are responsible to enforce it,” Woods said.

Randolph said when schools do a uniform policy, most schools write a dress code policy on the uniform.

Woods told the audience that a uniform policy will not be in effect until the board of trustees votes on it.

In other buisness, the board of trustees:

  • heard a status report on soil testing and stability at the Byhalia High School. The board has been retracing the construction record to find the factors causing cracking of walls and settling of doorways.

    Randolph reported that a Starkville architect has taken a look at the old gym at Potts Camp.

  • heard a financial report that the district’s cost for school administrators is 3.2 percent of the district’s operating expenses or $570,000.

    Randolph said the legislative report has set a 4 percent target cap for school administrators.

    “We are already under 4 percent,” he said. “Quite a few (districts) were over the 4 percent cap.”

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