Originally created 12/08/96

Edgefield's interest in school uniforms wanes



The summer passion for school uniforms in Edgefield County seems to have cooled with the coming of autumn.

In July, the Edgefield County school board yielded to parental opinion that it was too close to the beginning of the new school year to change the dress policy. The decision followed two months of debate.

As a result, the board asked principals to study the issue and indicate by Nov. 1 whether they were interested in adopting uniforms for their schools in January. None did.

Now the schools are supposed to be studying the idea for the 1997-98 school year, but interest is waning.

"There's a possibility we'll allow the individual schools to adopt uniforms on on voluntary basis," Superintendent Clarence Dickert said. "It'll be January or February if we're going to revisit it."

School principals and school board members say the threat of uniforms seems to have scared students into better adherence to the current dress code.

"I visited Strom Thurmond (High School), which was where most of the problem was, several times this year and it's been better," said board member Brad Covar, who started the uniform discussions.

Johnston-Edgefield-Trenton Middle School Principal Robert Heflin said a committee of teachers and administrators is working on his school's recommendation and hopes to have it before Christmas.

Mr. Heflin said there's been a marked decrease in violations of the current dress code by students this year since the specter of uniforms was raised over the summer.

"It has helped a lot because kids don't want uniforms by any means," Mr. Heflin said.

Strom Thurmond High Principal Phil Musgrave said the situation has also gotten better at his school.

"We've only had a few we had to call their parents to bring other clothes," Mr. Musgrave said. "And some came with other clothes because they knew what was going to happen."

Mr. Musgrave also said teachers have been more stringent on enforcing the dress code. Some board members had said uniforms wouldn't be needed if the schools would enforce the current dress code banning short skirts, tank tops and, starting this year, baggy pants and shirts with obscene language.

"We have tightened up our enforcement," said Mr. Musgrave, who often pointed out in debates that clothes were the easiest way to identify troublemaking students in crowded halls.

New board member Leslie Culpepper of Merriwether, a substitute teacher in Merriwether Middle and Elementary schools before his election last month, said he's rarely seen a problem resulting from kids' clothes.

"I've seen two instances this year where boys came to school with their pants hanging half off them, but as soon as they got to class it got straightened out," Mr. Culpepper said. "One had to pull up his pants and tighten his belt and the other didn't have a belt so they gave him a rope."

Mr. Culpepper said most dress code problems can be worked out with parents.

"So personally I would vote against it (uniforms) but I'll go with whatever the majority wants," he said.

A survey sent to parents in the spring found 57 percent opposed to uniforms.