"We are opposed!" was the consensus of parents who spoke at a public forum on Standardized School Attire (SSA) Thursday evening at Cascade High School, prior to the regular monthly meeting of Bedford County Board of Education.
Unlike a public hearing last month at Liberty School, where opinions were heard both in favor of and against SSA, all of Thursday night's public speakers were opposed to the plan, which is often described as being more than a dress code but less than a uniform.
Parents stated concerns about children not being able to express their individuality through their dress; the costs involved in having to purchase SSA-compliant clothing; and the message SSA will send to children.
"You're sending a message to our children that because one child's father wears jeans to work he is not considered as important in the community as another man who wears a business suit," said Dawn Henderson.
Proponents of SSA claim it improves school atmosphere, but Cory Henderson said his hometown of Austin, Texas, did a trial run with SSA, and that behavior at one school was negatively affected.
"We as a board are mission driven, and our mission is to provide a safe and productive environment where students can learn and become good citizens," school board chairman Barry Cooper said. "So in considering this (SSA) over the next three months, we have to look at whether this would make our schools any safer, or would it make learning any better. How would this effect our mission? So, we are hoping to hear good input tonight and in the future on whether this helps to fulfill our mission or not."
The board will hold another public forum to gather input on SSA on Jan. 17 at Community School prior to its regular monthly board meeting, and tentatively on Feb. 11 at Harris Middle School. Both meetings are open to the public, and residents from anywhere in the county are encouraged to attend any of the meetings, regardless of what school district they reside in.
The draft proposal which the board is using as a working document states that "Bedford County School Attire is an effective strategy to promote enhanced student appearance and behavior, which are key ingredients of a positive learning environment in which student safety and achievement are the highest priorities."
Cascade parent Robin Miller asked the board members whether they had given any thought to a student's individuality, especially if they are a large child and have a problem with tucking in their shirts. Board member Amy Martin assured Miller that they are taking those types of concerns into consideration, and all the information being gathered will help them to make their final decision on SSA.
"The administration here at Cascade has seemed to do a good job at enforcing the policies that are already in place," said grandparent Leo Wilcox. "I think leaving this matter up to the individual administrators would be the best thing to do. I've spent 30 years in law enforcement and 10 years in the education system, and I don't believe a school dress code would have any effect on safety."
Mark Kilpatrick expressed his concern of a child's comfort for better learning.
"If students are comfortable they are going to learn better, and our children need to be learning," Kilpatrick said. "Comfortable clothing works better in corporate America, and I believe it works better in schools too."
The T-G's coverage of Standardized School Attire, along with other relevant links, has now been collected at http://www.t-g.com/topic/ssa .