School Board Revisits Uniform Policy

Superintendent Kim Chrestman and school board trustees Casey Washington, Taylor Trusty and Pierce Epes listen as Board President Lamar Burgess explains his position on school uniforms. – Photo by Jack Gurner

By Jack Gurner

WATER VALLEY – School uniforms were back on the table at the regular first of the month school board meeting Monday night.
Board President Lamar Burgess told his fellow trustees that school uniforms are “something I keep getting hit up about.”
“A lot of times it has to do with costs,” Burgess said, referring to the lesser costs of uniforms over traditional school clothing.
“Some people don’t want school uniforms because they say it indicates you have a gang problem or a discipline problem,” he continued.
Burgess added that in talking with people in school systems that require uniforms, those who were initially opposed admitted that the cost savings were dramatic. The cost of five sets of uniforms is from around $60 to $90, according to the board president.
He said that local business could help by providing uniforms to some students whose families could not afford them.
Burgess reminded the board of an incident involving an outfit worn by a female student that required “the better part of a day” for the principal to determine if the garment met the dress code.
“A lot of people want to talk about the individuality of the students. We’d be taking that away by including school uniforms,” he said. “It should not be about the clothes our children have on. It should be about the learning they receive.”
Trustee Casey Washing-ton said that he was in favor of uniforms and added that the administration should gather data to present to the board.
“To me, it’s got to be across the board. I’m not going to do the high school and not the elementary or the elementary and not the high school. It’s got to be everyone,” he said.
“What about administrators and teachers?” asked Trustee Taylor Trusty, who had already indicated he is against school uniforms. “The last time we had this discussion I heard more complaints about what our teachers were wearing that what our kids were wearing.”

Time Frame
“Some would say we are starting late in the game,” said Burgess. “We probably should have done this 36 months ago. I feel that those who want to adopt this will be ready to adopt it if we have everything in place when school starts in the fall.”
Burgess recommended that if uniforms were adopted, the first semester could be voluntary, followed by mandatory compliance for the second semester.
“What is a uniform dress code going to do for you?” asked Trusty.
“Cost,” said Burgess. “That was the number one thing I have been approached about is the cost.”
“So, we are going to arbitrarily try and level the playing field for all these kids at the school,” Trusty responded.
“We would definitely do it for 73 percent,” Burgess said, referring to the number of children in poverty based on the percentage of free or reduced rate lunches.
Superintendent Kim Chrestman, who had been taking notes during the discussion, said that what he was hearing was that data, “pros and cons,” was needed. He also said that he would check with other school districts and also get input from the community and the district’s teachers.
Burgess brought up that a community survey was done a few years ago and that data was already available. The survey to which he referred was done in 2008 and solicited comments from parents, teachers, staff, students and members of the community. Just the comments filled 47 single-spaced typed pages when the results were compiled.
The survey was presented at a community forum in September of that year by then Superintendent Sammy Higdon. The basic figures from the survey showed that parents were for student uniforms by 57 percent while students were against uniforms by 58 percent.  Among the teaching staff, 67 percent were for student uniforms.
Of the parents who responded, 44 percent were for teachers wearing uniforms while 16 percent had no opinion. Of the teachers in both high school and elementary, 56 percent were against teachers wearing uniforms while 16 percent had no opinion.
Chrestman said that he would have additional information prepared for the next board meeting. A vote could come at that time.
Because there were a number of nuances of the issue covered during the almost 30 minute discussion, the Herald is making the audio available here (above story, click to play). The file will play on most computers.

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