Originally created 09/21/03

Parents call school dress code costly, unfair



Some parents are growing tired of Richmond County teachers acting like dress-code police. They want educators to turn in their badges.

Parent Debbie Murphy said her daughter wore a deep red T-shirt to Tutt Middle School this year. Her daughter's friend wore the same shirt.

"The friend was sent to the office. His shirt was too burgundy," Ms. Murphy said. "At registration, a child I know was given several different opinions on whether the shirt she was wearing was in compliance. The schools are spending too much time on picayune dress issues."

School uniforms are a hot topic among many parents this year after the Board of Education stopped allowing parents to opt out of the policy.

"I think it's about boundaries," school board President Jeff Padgett said earlier this month. "It's about rules, and it's about teaching children those early on."

School officials say the policy is working well, and a majority of those taking part in an online survey agree.

Of 105 people who chose to participate in The Augusta Chronicle's online poll over the past week, 60 percent supported a dress code policy while 40 percent did not.

Dozens more submitted comments to the newspaper, with more of them writing in opposition.

Critics say the dress code policies waste valuable classroom time, prevent freedom of expression and cost too much. Supporters counter that uniforms are actually cheaper, prevent teasing and allow pupils to concentrate on learning.

Paula Lankford said she believes in a dress code that promotes neatness - tucked-in shirts, longer dresses and no foul logos. But she said a uniform policy that allows only four colors is too restrictive for her son, Brandon, a pupil at Hephzibah Middle School.

"The policy is very limited. They are only allowed to wear red, white, blue and black. And it has to be solid. What if your kid does not look good in those colors?" she said. "Brandon is at the age where he is wanting to look good at school. He is interested in girls, and this is taking it away from him."

Other parents agree that the school board should include more options.

"If my child can wear it to church, she should be able to wear it to school," parent Wendy Smith said. "Let's take away the logos and sayings on the clothes, but what is wrong with a stripe or a paisley print?"

Valeria Calloway said her children have never caused problems for teachers when they were wearing regular clothing. This year, for the first time, her son was written up in kindergarten for having SpongeBob Squarepants on his blue T-shirt.

Cost is another big issue for Ms. Calloway, a single mother raising two children on $15,000 a year.

"All their clothes from last school term still fit, but since they are not what the board approves of, they can't wear any of them," she said. "I have to try to get up extra money so that my kids won't get put out of school."

Janet Shirley doesn't see why other parents are upset.

"All your dollar stores carry the uniforms, and the T-shirts average $5 each and pants average $7. Also, Goodwill stores have them very, very reasonably," she said.

Sarah Harper Scott has a way for parents to save money and for the district to keep its uniform policy. She suggests the Board of Education buy shirts at a bulk rate and resell them to parents at prices lower than what stores charge.

"It's real simple," she said.

Melissa Braddy supports the uniform policy, but she said it bugs her that Richmond County officials claim the uniforms will improve test scores and discipline problems.

"It's administration, policies, poor teaching practices and lack of student attendance that makes the scores low," she said. "We moved from Richmond County to Columbia County to get away from the political hoopla so our children could get a decent education."

Major studies over the past decade show mixed results on whether uniform policies affect academic achievement, violence and attendance:

  • A 1997 study by sociologists David Brunsma and Kerry Rockquemore concluded that uniforms had no direct effect on pupils' substance abuse, behavioral problems or attendance.
  • A study examining whether dress codes solved violence and behavior problems found that gang colors and insignias can lead to fighting. Also, status clothes - such as those with team jackets of professional sports teams and designer sneakers - can lead to thefts, according to the 1995 study by Lillian O. Holloman, a professor at Virginia Polytechic Institute and State University.
  • A 1996 study titled "School Uniforms and Safety" said uniforms reduced the problem of fashion wars. Researcher M. Sue Stanley concluded that uniforms might have a positive effect on school safety and were worth considering.
  • Not every parent is convinced.

    Ms. Lankford feels so strongly about it, she requested time to address the school board and voiced her complaints at the Sept. 11 meeting. She wants the opt-out provision back and is trying to organize a petition.

    "The parents are going to have to get together and do something so they will see we are serious," she said. "We are not just wasting our breath."

    Reach Greg Rickabaugh at (706) 828-3851 or greg.rickabaugh@augustachronicle.com.