Dressed for success?

Published 4:46 am Friday, June 1, 2007

By Staff
When it comes to the school uniform issue, it’s pretty clear that most parents in Beaufort County have opinions about what should and shouldn’t be considered as appropriate dress. They have just as many opinions about whether or not the school board should be allowed to tell their children what to wear. To borrow from school board Chairman Robert Belcher, one would have to be “living in another stratosphere” not to notice that this topic is high on the radar and that everyone has something to say about it.
Everyone includes us. So here’s what we offer to members of the Beaufort County Board of Education: When it comes to hammering out the dress code one more time, be deliberate, but don’t be slow.
The policy, which is actually “a dress code with restrictions to colors and fabrics,” according to school board member Cindy Winstead, took effect countywide in August 2006. A pilot program was initiated in Washington schools the year before that. The policy is not something parents accepted quietly. It even fueled the filings of Winstead and Teressa Banks, who won their school board seats in November. So to say that it’s important for the school board to get this policy right is an understatement.
Thus, a committee was formed to look at the “effectiveness and practicality” of the plan, according to Winstead, who led the group. Based on the committee’s findings, which came after surveying parents and teachers, Winstead made a handful of recommendations. Following those suggestions and a lengthy discussion, 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 dress-code changes go into effect when the next school year begins.
But wait. All is not set in stone. A four-member committee will “get specific,” Belcher said, about the finer points of the new dress code. That committee will determine what length of jacket is acceptable and will define just what “a more durable fabric” means.
They may seem like small things to figure out, but parents are waiting on those final outcomes. Many of them have several children to outfit in school clothes by August and the sooner they know the absolute do’s and don’ts, the happier they’ll be. That’s not to say they’ll be happy with the policy, but at least they’ll be happy the decisions are made and the ink has dried.
That said, we encourage school board members to think carefully about — and rethink perhaps — lifting restrictions on labels. If, in fact, one of the goals of the dress code is “to even out the playing field,” as was indicated in a presentation at the latest school board meeting, allowing labels seems to fly in the face of that.
It’s one thing to allow a small embroidered emblem on a shirt pocket. It’s entirely another matter if that embroidered emblem stands for a particular name brand of shirt or if it is accompanied by a name brand of some sort, no matter how tiny.
Winstead was right when she said: “You still have some students who wear $150 sneakers, while others wear $20 sneakers. You still have some students who arrive at school in old clunkers while other students drive Mustangs.”
School board members can’t regulate everything. And they shouldn’t. But if they want two students to appear dressed alike regardless of economic status, then Jimmy’s shirt from a discount store should seem generally indistinguishable from Johnny’s from a high-end department store.
Now, we won’t pretend that we know how this policy should turn out. We do know the same thing that parents and school board members agree on — whatever happens, the goal is to have the best and brightest students possible.
Our offerings are just things for school board members to chew on as they make the latest round of adjustments to the dress code. And if they’re seeking other suggestions, we’re sure a few hundred parents would be happy to oblige.