After traveling with local school board members to the Chattanooga area last spring and to Nashville this week, I feel sure that they will adopt Standardized School Attire (SSA), which is usually described as being more than a dress code but less than a uniform.
Those who favor SSA, including the principals that school board members talked to last spring and this fall, claim it benefits discipline and attitude, helps minimize class differences between students and helps minimize gang colors. Those who oppose it say the benefits are anecdotal and are not backed up by hard evidence. They say SSA is an unfair intrusion into students' rights and an undue burden on parents.
SSA seems like a foregone conclusion. School board members say they've already heard a lot of positive feedback from parents and educators. When I was substitute teacher for a day last spring at Central High School, I asked several of my classes about it. The lifelong Bedford County students hated the idea, but I was actually a little surprised at several students who had moved here from other systems which already have SSA. They said they liked it; it made life a lot simpler. I don't claim this to be a good statistical sample; there may be other kids with SSA experience who don't like it but just didn't speak up.
I have seen some of the opposition to SSA in comments on the T-G web site.
"This is just more rules to follow in a society that almost punishes a person for any kind of self expression," wrote "Bill H." "... What is wrong with blue jeans?"
The question now is, how exactly will SSA be implemented? How strict will it be?
I keep going back to something that Chuck Rockholt, principal of Cleveland High School, said last spring. Rockholt is pleased with SSA in his school, but he warned school board members to consider carefully what they are doing and what they want to achieve. If there's not a good reason for a specific rule or restriction, he said, authorities should leave it alone. Rockholt, for example, didn't see a reason for SSA in elementary school, and his community doesn't require it. Metro Nashville, by comparison, requires SSA for every grade, from kindergarten up.
Given his druthers, Rockholt would allow his high school students stripes or plaid print shirts as long as they didn't have writing on them, but he chooses to defer to the advisory committee, made up of teachers, parents and students, which sets Cleveland High's SSA policies. That committee is holding fast to the solid-colors-only rule.
As school board members continue to study and discuss SSA, I think they need to heed Rockholt's advice. Set whatever rules are beneficial, but don't go beyond that just for appearance's sake.
John I. Carney is city editor of the Times-Gazette and covers county government and other topics. His home page is lakeneuron.com.