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Elementary school requests uniforms

COVINGTON - Newton County School System Superintendent Steven Whatley is recommending that the Newton County Board of Education approve a request by Middle Ridge Elementary School to have its students wear uniforms next school year.

"We have a very high discipline rate at our school; we are trying to turn that around, and this was brought up as one idea that could help accomplish that," said school Principal Karen Crowder during a student uniform presentation to the board during its Tuesday night work session.

School Council President Kim Owens said the school has a lot of students coming into school dressed inappropriately.

"Even in elementary schools, they will come in with high heels and in skirts up to (their mid thigh)," she said. "I can't speak for other schools, but it is very prevalent in our school."

She said having uniforms also could help cut down the students making fun of other students' clothing and brand names.

"It's very bad and very heart breaking when a child comes home and says, 'Somebody made fun of me today,'" she said.

The school first started communicating with parents about uniforms in March 2007, when a letter was sent home asking parents to vote yes or no for students to be required to wear uniforms.

The flier included positive and negative statistics and comments regarding uniforms. Positive research showed a reduction in violence and peer sexual harassment and an increase in school pride and school climate; negative comments included violating a student's right to free expression and being difficult to enforce, according to the flier.

From 103 replies, the majority were not in favor of school uniforms, Crowder said.

Later that month, the school sent home a flier to parents notifying them of the results and also discussed the topic at the next PTO meeting.

In April 2007, the school sent home another voting sheet that included cost of uniforms from local retailers; of 356 votes returned, 205 were in favor of school uniforms, Crowder said.

In April 2008, a staff survey showed 37 were in favor of school uniforms, while 21 were not. An April 2008 kindergarten through fourth-grade student survey showed 318 voted in favor of uniforms and 260 voted against them.

Crowder said if a uniform policy is approved, she plans to hold a fashion show at the school and have displays at open house and encourage parents to talk to one another.

Owens said many of the parents she has talked to aren't against the idea of uniforms, but many are concerned about the cost associated with them.

According to the flyer sent home with parents last school year, uniform tops, bottoms and

accessories cost between $5 and $12 each at local retail stores.

If approved, the school also plans to collect donations of used uniforms by placing drop boxes outside of the building and having a spring sale at the final PTO meeting to allow parents to sell or buy uniforms.

The school counselors also will look for community sponsors, such as partners in education and local churches and organizations, to help needy families.

Like other schools in the county with uniform policies, the dress code would require students at the school to wear shorts or skirts to the fingertips and pants in khaki/tan, black or navy color. They also would be allowed to wear collared or plain T-shirts in red, white, navy or black color. They could wear plain athletic tennis shoes with no black bottoms.

"Students new to (the school) will have a two-week grace period in order to obtain the uniform. Current students will have a two-week grace period at the beginning of the 2008-09 school year in order to obtain uniform clothing articles," according to her presentation. "Following the grace period, the parent will be asked to either bring a uniform for the student to change into or to pick up the student."

Students won't always have to wear the uniform - one day each week, the school will allow them to wear their uniform or other clothing meeting guidelines from the current dress code.

"Extra choice days may be provided to students as an incentive for meeting academic and/or behavior goals," according to Crowder's presentation.

In 2001, Ficquett Elementary School was the first school in the Newton County School System to require student uniforms. Now, Porterdale and Heard-Mixon elementary schools also have uniform policies.

Palmer Stone Elementary School required student uniforms at one time, but no longer does. As of press time, no one from the school would comment to explain that decision.

After interest is expressed, Whatley said the school board can look into requiring uniforms for all elementary schools in the county, but the board generally leaves that decision up to the individual schools.

"I think if we look at adopting it at all elementary schools, it would be easier to enforce," board member Cathy Dobbs said.

Michelle Floyd can be reached at michelle.floyd@newtoncitizen.com.