Uniforms would be a good idea for local schools to take into consideration

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By Stacey Manning, Managing Editor

In the community where I grew up and later became a newspaper reporter assigned to cover education, the two public school systems—one a city district and one for the county—are known for being progressive institutions of learning.

They have drawn a lot of attention for adopting and fine-tuning a year-round education calendar that promotes learning in ways that appear to help young people retain knowledge, without facing the “summer slide.”

Administrators were also forward thinkers when, years ago, both districts adopted strict dress-code policies.

For both districts, what students can wear to school is limited, and those who were behind efforts to put the plans into effect often drew fire about restrictiveness. But once in place, the plans appeared to work.

While the codes vary for each district, here is a hodge-podge of some of the policies adopted:

All clothing with belt loops to be accompanied by a belt, and shoes, socks, stockings or tights must be worn at all times. Clothes are required to be worn right side out, and tightly fitting clothes and “sagging” pants are prohibited. (Guess it’s a good thing kids today are too young to remember Kris-Kross so they won’t be “Jump”ing around about this one.)

Showing off the midriff is a thing of the past. (Was that ever appropriate for school?)

Pants and shirts must be solid colors, and shirts must have a defined collar and sleeves. Clothes cannot advertise drugs, alcohol or tobacco products. Clothing may not promote or suggest lewd messages. (You’d think that would be common sense, but I can’t tell you how many kids I’ve seen in my hometown wearing Budweiser or other similar T-shirts.)

Students aren’t allowed to wear jackets in class, and hats and gloves are expected to be taken off when students enter the school building. (Let’s hope the heat is always working.)

Appropriate hems are required on pants, and fraying is not allowed. (Oops, looks like today, I’d get a one-way ticket to the principal’s office.)

Got a lot of stuff to carry? Be sure your hands are free because you can’t get the help of cargo pockets in these schools, and be ready to carry a backpack made of see-through or mesh materials. (Guess everybody now gets to see those “I love So-And-So” scribbles on notebooks.)

So what do two districts in Kentucky have to do with life here in Brunswick County? It appears a similar discussion is under way for local schools, specifically with folks from Lincoln Elementary seeking board approval to do just that.

After reporting on this heated issue for several years, my advice would be: Keep it simple. Don’t make the code too restrictive. The last thing you want are teachers and school administrators having to stop every kid in the hall against a checklist to see what works and what doesn’t. (Seriously, school is hard enough. No one wants to walk past a teacher with a ruler in hand to see if a seam is long enough.)

Make the policy so a quick visual check can determine whether or not a student is in compliance. (I’d rather a teacher teach a class than judge clothes, wouldn’t you?)

Set penalties in advance and be sure staff members are ready to enforce them—equally and fairly across the board. (No one wants mom or dad calling, saying the kid in the next seat didn’t get sent to detention, “Why did my child?”)

Develop a program to help families who need financial assistance by providing a location at each school where parents can go to a resource official and get gently used clothing.

Make selections that are easy to find. If a parent can’t find what he or she needs at stores right here in Brunswick County, don’t put it on the list.

Be sure to keep a supply of the appropriate clothes on site. Don’t send kids home if they violate the dress code. (What’s more fun than a free day out of school?) Instead, have an appropriate shirt or pair of pants ready for a quick change until the end of the day.

And parents, don’t be afraid of the potential change. I’ve heard from many parents (and students) how refreshing it is to know exactly what a child will wear to school each morning. It takes a lot of the guesswork and debating out of getting ready in the morning.

And what about those opposed to such policies because they fear it will limit a child’s creativity and individuality? Children who have such talents are likely to find ways to excel in such areas, regardless of what their clothes look like.

And remember, there are always afternoons and weekends to be as edgy as they want to be.

What do you think about school uniforms or a strict dress code? Log onto www.brunswickbeacon.com and let us know. Look for the “Opinion” tab on the blue bar on the main page, then select “Readers’ Forum.”

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