A divided Franklin County School Board Monday evening signaled that they may be on the verge of ending the district’s school uniform policy.
The deciding factor may well be the viewpoint of parents.
In her report during the Monday workshop, during which time items are discussed but no decisions are made until the regular meeting, which is June 28, Principal Jill Rudd said teachers and students both voted four-to-one in favor of ending the school uniform policy.
But, she said, so far only 7 percent of parents took part in the survey, which she said was not enough to determine how they felt.
To gather more input, the district is reaching out to parents to get their views. (See sidebar).
In her review of the pros and cons of ending the school uniform policy, which requires students to wear a school shirt but had flexibility regarding pants and slacks, Rudd said the primary con viewpoint is that ending the policy could lead to students dressing inappropriately, as well as a drop in revenue that the school gains from selling off its t-shirt inventory.
“That $2 per shirt adds up over time,” she said, noting that this revenue has enabled the school to treat students to parties based on attendance or academic achievement.
Rudd said the pros to ending the policy, which was tried on a trial basis the last month of the school year. was that students often dress better, with more variety in their outfits, and the freedom to express themselves.
“One student said they actually come to school more often,” Rudd said. “Teachers don’t have to fight the uniform battle every day.”
The principal said there were only two uniform-related referrals during the trial period at the end of the last school year. “We were able to increase class in-seat time,” Rudd said.
Superintendent Traci Moses said that a recently passed state law could provide an additional $10 in funding per student, in kindergarten through eighth grade, if a district has a uniform policy.
“Uniforms promote an environment that enhances learning and safety; encourages the expression of individuality through personality and achievements, not outward appearances; and creates a sense of school pride and belonging,” reads the state law.
Moses said that because the law outlines specific requirements to a school uniform policy, such as a long or short-sleeved collared solid colored blouse or polo shirt with skirt, pants, walking shorts, jumpers, or skorts, for girls, and similar attire for boys, administrators felt that adopting such a comprehensive policy could be a hardship on parents, since there are no department stores with a large clothing selection in the county.
Board member George Thompson voiced opposition to eliminating the school shirt policy, his top concern being the safety of the students.
“I think it’s a terrible mistake,” he said. “If everybody is in a school shirt and you have a problem, it’s easier to identify,” he said. “I just think it’s a big mistake to throw this out there right now.”
Rudd noted that in the event of a school shooting, the odds would be the perpetrator would return to school dressed in a school uniform, and could blend in with the other students.
Board Chair Stacy Kirvin said he didn’t have an opinion one way or another on changing the policy, and felt it was a decision best left in the hands of the school administration, which supports the change.
Board Member Pam Marshall said she supported keeping the school uniform policy, but that if it were to be changed, it should apply to all the grades. “My opinion is we’re opening up a can of worms,” she said.
The chief advocate for the change was Board Member Carl Whaley, who said he thought the school shirt requirement was outdated, particularly for the high schoolers.
“I think we need to allow our kids that individuality,” he said. “They’re fixing to go out in the job world and they’ve wore a t-shirt for 12 solid years.
“We sent out a survey. It’s overwhelming that the school shirts aren’t desired anymore,” Whaley said. “When he (Whaley’s son) stands up half, his gut is hanging out his shirt. It just shuts him down.
“I know some other students in that same boat,” he said. “They want that individuality.”
Marshall said she was concerned that parents hadn’t weighed in enough on the issue. “They’re the ones who need to get involved,” she said.
“We have to let our parents know soon,” said Rudd.
The board sought input from the audience, with high school teacher Jamie Duhart, who has had two sons in school, speaking first.
“As a teacher it is a battle not worth fighting every day,” she said. “I’d rather have them sitting in class and not go to the office. As a parent it’s kind of nice not to worry what they’ll wear every day.”
Moses, who has sons in school, said she didn’t have a preference, but noted that her older son began to take more of an interest in his clothing the older he got.
Thompson said he felt the brightly colored shirts at the Apalachicola Bay Charter School were preferable. “The others are blah,” he said.
District staffer Allison Chipman also weighed in, noting the quality of the shirts has improved.
“I would say leave elementary shirts and give that opportunity to middle or high school, as a pilot year,” she said. “There should be more of parents’ response; it’s their money.”
Kirvin noted that the initial motive was to ease up on the school requirement for high schoolers.
“I was just trying to be as fair as possible,” said Rudd.
“Y’all just created a big headache,” said Thompson.
Kevin Ward, whose wife teaches at the ABC School and who has kids in school, said dropping the shirt requirement could have an additional effect.
“Maybe without the dress code our population would go up,” he said.
“No other school district in this area wears a school uniform,” Whaley said.