03/06/07 — Students' dress codes could become more strict

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Students' dress codes could become more strict

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on March 6, 2007 1:52 PM

The notion of school uniforms is being bandied about by the Board of Education, although members prefer to call it "improved dress."

The topic is expected to be discussed at the next board meeting, moved to March 26 due to conflicts with this year's early Easter holiday break. It was inadvertently introduced Monday night following a presentation on the state-generated character education program.

Vice chairman Thelma Smith said it baffled her that a character education program could exist without including proper attire.

"Dress is part of developing your character," she said. "I'm hoping that the dress code that we're going to be discussing in the next board meeting -- proper dress uniform. We're considering that this will be a part of it. ... We have got a dress code, but it's not being followed as it should be."

Board chairwoman Shirley Sims said the word "uniform" is one that sometimes turns people off.

"We're not saying uniform," she said. "Say 'improved dress.'"

She said that having appropriate clothing not only identifies students, but could prevent potential problems.

"In a time when we have so many people showing up off the streets and putting our students in harm's way, we could definitely identify intruders if they were dressed differently," she said. "I think it's something that we need to look at."

Board members had recently heard a presentation from Beaufort County Schools, where a student dress policy was introduced earlier in the school year.

"A lot of suspensions were going on in the beginning, but after they got the message, a lot of that was worked out," Mrs. Smith said.

She and Ms. Sims referred to the popularity of baggy pants and long white shirts, which should be "out of compliance" with a dress code, Mrs. Smith said.

"It's already out of compliance," said board member John P. Grantham. "We already have a policy against oversized clothing."

Mrs. Smith said that after hearing what another county has done and how it has improved student behavior, it would be wise to consider revamping the local dress code.

"If there's only one school in Wayne that would like to try it, I would love to give them an opportunity," she said.

Mrs. Smith said the idea would not necessarily be imposed districtwide.

"We're not here to make every school do it. If there are only five that participate, only start with five that first year," she said. "If the others see that the behavior is improved, other people want to get on board, fine. But I don't think we need to deny any school if they want to try it."

Grantham said he would favor changes if the majority of the county did.

"At a minimum, the majority should want it," he said. "If you have a uniform and the object is to make people dress appropriately, you're going to have to do something to them if they don't wear it."

Using that logic, Grantham asked why consequences aren't currently being imposed when there are violations to the dress code.

"If you can make them do one, you can make them do the other," he said.

The rationale behind the changes would be to improve the situation in schools, Mrs. Smith said.

"The safety, the discipline on the campus, it ought to be a site-based decision," she said. "I hope it's our intention to give parents that opportunity."

Board member Pete Gurley said change could be good.

"Some of our neighboring counties are already looking into this," he said, with community surveys being made. "From the report that came back, it was very favorably looked upon.

"I'm very encouraged that our superintendent is in favor of us looking into uniforms in our county."

Board member George Moye shrugged off the controversy, noting that much of his adult life in the business world has been spent wearing uniforms -- dark jacket, matching slacks, white or blue shirt.

"I have visited schools in probably 15 different countries. The United States is the only place where they don't wear uniforms," he said. "I wore uniforms for 35, 36 years and I never complained about it. It was just a standard of the business world."