Students will switch to uniforms next year

By Mike McClure

In a narrow 3-2 vote, the Woodbridge School Board made its school district the first public school district to institute school uniforms in its schools. With the vote during a board meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 28, Woodbridge School District students in grades K-8 will be required to wear uniforms next school year with high school students following suit in the 2005-06 school year. “Unfortunately the dress has gotten out of hand and I think it (uniforms) creates a better learning environment,” said board member Willis Dewey, one of the three members to vote for the measure. “I feel the majority of the parents know that it is for the best.” At the beginning of the meeting, Superintendent Dr. Kevin Carson presented the board and audience members with the results of staff and parent surveys concerning school uniforms. While only 14 percent of the parents in the district returned the survey, Carson used the surveys to indicate support of his proposal. “I believe that school uniforms would be a positive contributor to improving the quality of our schools,” Carson said prior to making his recommendation. Among the questions parents were asked in the survey were: Would uniforms reduce school peer pressure in a school setting? (126 (61 percent) yes, 56 (27 percent) no, 23 (11percent) maybe); Do you think a school uniform would improve school climate in the Wood- bridge School District? (116 (58 percent) yes, 59 (29 percent) no, 26 (13 percent) maybe; and Do you think a school uniform would enhance security? (141 (68 percent) yes, 36 (17 percent) no, 30 (14 percent) maybe). Question seven of eight asked parents: Do you think the Woodbridge School District should consider uniforms for the 2004-05 school year? Of the 205 responses to the question, 132 (64 percent) said yes, 57 (28 percent) said no, and 16 (eight percent) said maybe. There were 1401 parent surveys sent out by the district with 14 percent of them returned and between 205 and 207 responses to each question. “We got representation across the grade levels,” said Carson. Eighty-two percent of the 160 staff members that filled out staff surveys indicated support of the uniform proposal for students. Only 82 staff members (51 percent) indicated that they approved of a staff uniform similar to a student uniform, while 87 of them (55 percent) said they’d be willing to wear a uniform daily. Sixty-eight percent of the staff members said they’d be willing to wear a uniform once a week. Carson said eight percent of the population at similar schools took economic assistance for uniforms (which districts are required by the state to provide). If Woodbridge followed the same precedent, Carson estimated 113 students would need assistance at a cost of $5,656. According to Carson, the district’s PTO has offered to pay 50 percent of the cost of uniforms and the district has donations in hand for the rest. Three years after the board heard a report from a community based committee supporting a uniform policy, Carson recommended uniforms for students in K-8 in 2004-05 and district wide in 2005-06. He also recommended the district form a committee of parents, staff, community members to look at policy issues such as economic assistance, style definition and procurement, and enforcement if the board approved the uniform policy. “This has to be one of the harder decisions I’ve ever had to consider but certainly not the most difficult,” said Dewey.
“Personally I’d have to see more (information). Fifteen percent may not reflect the entire community. The issue of instituting uniforms is more than just being for or against uniforms,” board member Shawn Bowman said prior to the public comment session. “I believe uniforms could improve the overall learning environment. I would’ve liked to have seen a staff dress code in place before we looked at a dress code for students.” The public comment session mirrored the parent survey results with only around 40 people in attendance at last week’s meeting, which was held in the Woodbridge High School auditorium. A slight majority of the people who spoke at the meeting were in favor of uniforms. “I just don’t feel that that (survey) is an accurate reflection of how people in the public feel,” said Linda Mylum, who said she only had four days to return the survey. Steve Pattrone, a parent of three boys who attend Woodbridge schools, believes the uniforms will curtail the problem of kids walking around in baggy clothes. “You’re trying to teach them to be responsible adults. It (what students wear) reflects how they’re being taught,” Pattrone said. “If you let the kids decide then it’s just anarchy. My kids don’t have to love me, my job is to make them the best individuals they can be.” “I don’t think these uniforms are going to make these kids any smarter. You need to enforce the current (dress code) policy,” said Randy Blades. “Anything that can help the teachers keep their kids focussed is a big help,” Pattrone added. Following public comment, the board voted 3-2 in favor of uniforms with board members Deborah Stogner, Edith Vincent, and Dewey voting for uniforms and board president Coulter Passwaters and Bowman voting against them. The board voted 5-0 to form a committee to look at the details of the impending policy. “I don’t think it will make a difference,” said Dajaunaira Weal, a Sussex Tech student who is from the Woodbridge area. “The kids are going to find a way to do something with their clothes anyway.” Woodbridge senior Rayna Horsey, who polled 300 middle school students and around 500 high school students, said most of the students are opposed to school uniforms. But Dewey, who said he was for uniforms before the issue came before the the board but spent a lot of time weighing the pros and cons, believes uniforms are in the district’s best interest. “A lot of it led to looking at the overall district as a whole,” said Dewey, who went to the high school and looked how the kids dressed before making his decision. “What seems to be OK for one administrator (under the dress code policy) may not be OK for another.” “We would have loved to see 100 percent return (on parent surveys),” Dewey added. “We need to get our parents more involved. The board has done everything it can.”

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