School board revisits, revamps dress code

Published 2:58 am Wednesday, May 23, 2007

By Staff
Changes take effect in next school year
News Editor
The Beaufort County Board of Education voted Monday night, to “tweak” its uniform policy allowing more flexibility in the way a student may dress while still reaching “the goal of a modest appearance.”
Based on separate votes on each item, the board approved letting students wear jackets inside classrooms, OK’d lifting restrictions on labels, approved collared shirts in any color and sanctioned “a more durable fabric” for pants. The revamped policy takes effect when the next school year begins.
The policy, which took effect countywide in August 2006, has been hotly contested by some parents. It even prompted Cindy Winstead and Teressa Banks — two of the newest school board members — to run for the school board last fall. The policy, which is actually “a dress code with restrictions to colors and fabrics,” Winstead said, was first pitched by Superintendent Jeff Moss in February 2005. Two months later, a pilot program for uniforms began in Washington schools.
A committee appointed by the school board took a look at the “effectiveness and practicality” of the policy, according to Winstead, who was chairwoman of the group.
The dress-code policy had four goals — to decrease discipline problems, “to even out the playing field” in terms of social status, to increase students’ safety and to eliminate inconsistencies in old dress-code plans, Winstead said during a presentation Monday night.
Charting disciplinary cases in both Washington and Northside high schools, Winstead said statistics didn’t bear out that the dress code reduced such incidents. She said it also fell short of putting students on equal social footing.
Winstead said uniforms haven’t necessarily improved students’ safety.
Winstead said the dress code does not decrease inconsistencies that were found in older policies.
Regardless of the complaints, “the overwhelming majority surveyed … did not want to return to the days of no dress code,” she said. Winstead said everyone wanted to honor “the goal of a modest appearance.”
School board member William Warren responded, “What you’re saying, then, is that the policy needs tweaking a little bit to make it more palatable.”
Winstead made the proposals that were ultimately adopted Monday based on “the main areas mentioned most often” during the committee’s review. The first proposal was to allow children to wear coats inside classrooms. Under the current policy students are allowed to wear coats outside or when they are changing classes, but not inside classrooms.
She said allowances ought to be made based on the “variations in temperatures” among the classrooms.
Board member John White wanted to know if principals had been consulted during the policy review. Winstead said they had not, partly because she didn’t know that White wanted such a consultation and partly because principals wouldn’t likely speak against the policy even if they had concerns.
Ultimately, the board approved “jackets,” but a committee will make recommendations on the appropriate lengths of outer wear.
Winstead recommended that labels and embroidery, such as what might be seen on shirt pockets, be allowed. Such labeling would not include screenprinting or any label that would cover a large portion of the pants or shirt, she said. The committee will also more clearly define label restrictions, per Monday’s discussion.
White and board member E.C. Peed opposed allowing other colors of shirts, but six board members agreed to it — as long as the shirts have collars and sleeves.
Winstead countered, “If I wanted to get on campus to hurt somebody … do you think I’m going to wear something that will make me stand out? No. I’ll wear a red shirt just like everybody else.”
The committee will make more specific recommendations about shirttails and sleeve lengths, although board members agreed Monday that shirts cannot be sleeveless.
Winstead also recommended that denim pants be allowed, citing their durability and parents’ woes with removing grass stains from khakis.
Belcher spoke against students donning denim, saying it would give them a loophole to wear baggy pants.
The board approved “a more durable fabric,” but not denim. That fabric, too, will be defined by the committee Belcher appointed.
Winstead, Warren, Peed and board member Eltha Booth will serve on the committee. The committee will “get specific,” then renew the dress-code discussion, Belcher said.