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School Uniforms Addressed In Forum

Water Valley School District Board members (from left) Taylor Trusty, Ray Hawkins, Cayce Washington and Lamar Burgess listen intently as the pros and cons of school uniforms are discussed. – Photo by Jack Gurner

Rhonda Burchett said she is not in favor of uniforms which would impose an unnecessary economic hardship on parents.

By Jack Gurner

WATER VALLEY –  School uniforms are scary.

At least they are according to one of the youngsters in the Water Valley School District who filed out a student uniform survey.

That was just one of many comments taken from all the survey forms submitted by parents, teachers, staff, students and members of the community. The comments filled 47 single-spaced typed pages.

The survey was one elements 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.

Another element of the study was a public forum held last Thursday evening at the high school cafeteria where school board members and the public were presented with the survey results.

School Board President Ray Hawkins told the crowd, “We’re here for one purpose and one purpose only. That is to have an open forum to discuss the possibility of the Water Valley School System going to uniforms. The school system board has not made a decision on this and we want to get community input.”

Hawkins said that the board members want to know how the community feels about the uniform issue. “We want to know how our students feel about it, and we want to know how our parents and staff feel about it.”

Hawkins introduced Superintendent Sammy Higdon who presented the survey results in detail. The basic figures from the survey showed that parents are for student uniforms by 57 percent while students are against uniforms by 58 percent.  Among the school teaching staff, 67 percent are for student uniforms.

Of the parents who responded, 44 percent are for teachers wearing uniforms while 16 percent have no opinion. Of the teachers in both high school and elementary, 56 percent are against wearing uniforms while 16 percent have no opinion.

After Higdon completed his presentation, those who had signed up were asked to speak. First was Louis Rowsey who said he is in favor of uniforms. He added that he had come to express his opinion on the type of uniforms, what they were going to look like, and where they were going to be purchased. But, he said that since no decision had been made there was nothing for which to express his opinion.

Next came Lynn Trusty, a mother of four, who is for uniforms.  She said the number one reason is safety. “If the kids come in wearing regular fitting khaki pants you know they aren’t packing a gun.” She added that the kids are put on a level playing field and do not have to compete based on clothing.

Rhonda Burchett, who said she is not in favor of uniforms, followed Trusty. “I think uniforms would impose an unnecessary economic hardship on parents in our school district. The median income in Water Valley is $24,000 a year. If you enforce uniforms your potentially going to force parents to have to buy two sets of clothes per kid.”

Burchett called for enforcement of the current dress code. “It’s time to put the responsibility back on the parents,” she concluded.

Among the others who spoke at the invitation of the board was a grandmother said that she went through twelve years of school in uniform and they were able to sell them back for other children to wear. She also said that she believes there should be a dress code for the teachers.

Another parent said that he was against uniforms because it wasn’t right to take away a child’s freedom to wear what they want to wear. “It doesn’t matter if the parents want them to wear it or not,” he said. “A child is going to express themselves on how and what they do in school as they are growing up. If you take that away from them now, you are taking away from their future.”

A former student who graduated from Water Valley 53 years ago said that he had children who had been in schools that required uniforms and some that didn’t. He said that when his sons transferred from a school without uniforms to one that required them, there was a tremendous change in the decorum of the school. The behavior was better with the uniforms as was the appearance of the classrooms. He added that his wife had been a teacher and the uniforms made her job easier having her class in uniform.

A mother said that her children had been in both situations and that having uniforms was cost effective. She said that if uniforms help the educational process, she is for them.

Another mother said that she is against uniforms and that it is the parents’ job to make sure the children are dressed correctly. “If you call the parent two or three times to come get their kid, they are going to start paying attention to how they are leaving the house.”

The final speaker said that uniforms weren’t going to cure the problems of improper dress. “Kids that are going to break the dress code are going to break it whether you have uniforms or whether you don’t.”

Trustee Casey Washington thanked the group for coming to the forum. “It’s not every time we ask for the public’s opinion, we get it.”

Trustee Lamar Burgess said that over the past few weeks he had been talking to people in his district and he had polled about 55 of them. He said that one was in the middle of the road, two were against, and the other 52 were for uniforms.

Burgess added that cost was the bottom line for many parents. “If it is going to save them $200 to $400 per child to get started, that’s what they would like for the board to do.”

“Personally I have always been opposed to uniforms,” said Hawkins who emphasized that he worked for the people in the school system. “What I feel personally really doesn’t matter if you want something different. And, when the community cries out to me that they want uniforms, I have a responsibility to get a pulse on the thing to make sure that’s what the entire community wants.”

“I can’t tell you what the board is going to do. And, I can’t even tell you how I am going to vote when that time comes. I am going to look at the data that Mr. Higdon has presented tonight and I am going to replay the opinions I have heard tonight. I am going to take all of this into consideration before I make a decision. But, I want to make a decision that is best for this school district and best for this community”

“Water Valley is a small school district. We don’t have a whole lot of money. All we have is a lot of natural talent. And, we have to try in every way we can to enhance that and if that means getting uniforms to get students to perform better in the classrooms, then I am all for it.”

“We’ve got a long way to go,” Hawkins said. “This decision is no where close to being made at this point.”

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