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School Uniforms Are Topic Of Public Forum

By Jack Gurner

School uniforms will be the topic of a public forum on Thursday beginning at 6:30 p.m. in the Water Valley High School cafeteria.

The forum is one element of a study being conducted by the Water Valley School District Board of Trustees to determine the feasibility of school uniforms for students and staff in the local district.

According to a news release from district officials, members of the public are invited to make comments that will be limited to three minutes. Only those signed up by 3 p.m. Wednesday will be allowed to speak. As of Tuesday, only “four or five” members of that public had signed up to comment, according to Superintendent Sammy Higdon.

“But, any teachers who would like an opportunity to address the board may sign up as well,” Higdon said. “Plus, we are looking at high school students. Any that wish to sign up may do so.”

The board is also using a survey of parents, students and staff to gather information on the subject of school uniforms. “Right here I have 25 typed pages of comments,” Higdon said.  “And, and we aren’t finished typing the parent comments yet.”

On the Herald’s website, the story has generated 33 comments.

The issue has been hotly debated in recent years. Uniform opponents have cited potential civil rights violations while supporters have said that the benefits outweigh any loss of freedoms. The issue gained national attention in 1996 when former President Bill Clinton said in his State of the Union Address that schools should be able to require their students to wear uniforms.

By the 1999-2000 school year, 12 percent of schools required students to wear uniforms. Six years later, during the 2005-2006 school year, the number had risen to 14 percent, according to figures from the Education Commission of the States.

One of the school systems most often mentioned in reports about school uniforms is Long Beach, California. A study conducted after the system switched to uniforms in 1995 and reported in the publication Psychology Today claimed that the crime rate dropped by 91 percent, school suspensions dropped by 90 percent, sex offenses were reduced by 96 percent, and incidents of vandalism went down 69 percent.

An article in Education Week also reported that assaults in grades Kindergarten through 8th grade had decreased by 85 percent.

However opponents of uniforms have said that the Long Beach figures are flawed because the system made other improvements during the period that had more to do with the changes than did the uniforms.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has also said that due to lack of research it is impossible to determine if uniforms produce positive changes in student behavior. A spokesman for the ACLU said that uniforms violate students’ rights to free expression.

“There is no empirical data out there to support it one way or the other statistically as far as how it affects discipline or achievement,” Higdon said. “It just depends on each individual school system.”

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