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School uniforms debated
‘School Board has bigger issues, overcrowding in West Knox,’ James says

If you’re a parent of a Knox County student, don’t expect the Knox County Board of Education to vote to put your kids in uniforms anytime soon, if at all.

Board member Chuck James, 6th district, questions the necessity of drastically changing the dress code.

“This board right now has bigger issues,” he said. “We’ve got overcrowding in all our West Knox County schools. That’s something we need to be doing. We need to be worried about educating our children.”

James is also concerned about the number of parents who have weighed in on the issue. A phone survey was conducted last month following poor response to questionnaires given to parents of Knox County students. Random calls were made to 1,014 parents out of 36,523 phone numbers provided by Knox County Schools.

“They did a survey. They handed out, I think, twenty five-hundred surveys at Farragut High School and I think 145 turned them back in,” James said. “Before I could ever vote on an important issue such as this, I would want to come to the Farragut community and hold a forum and see how the parents feel.”

Russ Oaks, KCS spokesperson, said principals are also being polled.

“We are really still researching and trying to provide information so that the board

can make the best decision,” Oaks said.

Part of that research, he added, involves looking at systems that require uniforms to study, in part, how a strict dress code is enforced.

Board member Karen Carson, 5th district, said surveying the principals and assistant principals is an important step.

“We get a lot of feedback from the principals saying that the dress of the students is a problem so let’s document it and make sure,” Carson said. “They are gonna be the ones to enforce it. They are the ones that have to deal with it every day in their schools. It’s important for the teachers, too, but I think the principals will act as spokespersons for their staff. We can sit at a board meeting and come up with a new policy, if it’s not something that is realistic and will work and will not be put into practice, it’s kind of a wasted policy and foolish to do.”

James feels the emphasis should be put on the current dress code.

“I feel like we have a dress code so there’s no need to put the children in a uniform if we just enforce the dress code,” he said. “Let the children be children and wear what they wanna wear as long as they’re within our dress code policy.”

If a uniform policy is enacted, Carson has considered what she thinks is reasonable.

“If we’re gonna change the policy, what I would like to see is blue jeans or khakis in either pants, capris, skirt or shorts and then the top being a solid polo shirt and the colors being white and two school colors,” she said.

The current code, she added is, “a little too open to individual interpretation.” Details such as length of shirt sleeves should be spelled out for students and parents.

“It all starts with the parents,” James said. “You know when your children leave for school in the morning. You could look at your child and see if they’re dressed appropriately for going to school. It’s all a matter of opinion, what I think is appropriate may not be appropriate to you, but if we lay out the ground rules and make it strict and just stand on our policy there’s no need to put our children in uniforms.”

James also questions how a uniform policy would be enforced.

“How are we gonna enforce the dress code?” he asked. “I would never suspend a child for not being in a uniform.”

Carson agreed. “If you don’t have a consequence the kids aren’t gonna follow it, but I don’t want a child suspended from school. I think the question the board has to answer before the board does anything to change a policy is why are we doing this and I’m not real clear on that yet. I’ve not been able to find any research that validates all of the wonderful things that a uniform might do,” she said.

Carson’s research on the issue has included a mass e-mail to parents in her district asking their thoughts on uniforms. “I got 150 responses,” she said, adding 65 percent are in favor of them. That percentage was on target with the KCS phone survey that determined 63 percent interviewed said a “standardized dress policy” was acceptable.

Carson and James agree that, if enacted, a uniform policy should not go into effect this fall.

Carson said, “It shouldn’t go into effect until August 2006. We don’t have enough time now to have people out buying summer clothes and to wonder what they should buy.”

About the issue he is more concerned about — a new West Knox County High School – James said, “Right now, what they’re telling the board, there’s a couple of pieces of property, they’re in negotiation. Sometime in May, we could vote on this property. We have the money, we just don’t have the property but I think we’re real close.”


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