Parents, students react to discussion about Cape Girardeau School District dress code change

Sunday, December 4, 2011

As a committee of faculty in the Cape Girardeau School District continues researching a revised dress code for all students beginning in the fall of 2012, many opinions are forming in the community.

A parent survey on the district's website posted Nov. 21 ended Friday with more than 500 responses, said Dr. Jim Welker, superintendent. The results of the survey will be available early next week. A similar faculty survey had an overwhelming response, also with around 500, said Carla Fee, Cape Girardeau Central Junior High School's principal and chairwoman of the committee studying dress codes.

The committee, made up of two faculty members from each building in the district, formed in October and meets weekly. It will make a recommendation and proposal on a revised dress code to the school board sometime this month. The school board will then vote whether to approve the proposal.

Since the committee formed, Fee said, she believes some parents have formed an idea that a revised dress code is a punishment for students.

"It's not," she said. "And it's not because we don't want kids to be able to wear whatever they want."

She said the purpose of the committee is to look at research on dress codes to see how a stricter one would affect the learning environment in the schools and statistics that show if dress codes decrease bullying and peer pressure.

The Scott City School District, along with the Scott County and Caruthersville, Mo., districts, is among those being reviewed by the Cape Girardeau dress code committee.

Scott City school officials say there is an increased focus for students on academics and less disciplinary incidents since implementing a new dress code policy at the start of the school year.

According to a survey of public school principals in a 2010 study of school crime and safety by the U.S. Department of Education, 18 percent of public schools require students to wear uniforms and 55 percent of public schools enforce a strict dress code.

On a daily basis, staff at the junior high in Cape Girardeau see students being pressured to wear certain things, and there is related bullying, she said.

A revision of the dress code for girls at the junior high came in October that required the skirts or shorts they wear to fall no higher than two inches above the knee. Since then, there have been fewer incidents related to dress, Fee said.

Michael Jackson, an area lawyer and parent of two students in the district, said he has concerns that if the district implements a stricter dress code or uniform policy that there would be too much cost to the district's lower-income families and an infringement on students' personal freedom. He also has concerns about "making too much noise," about the issue, he said. But, "my kids don't want this," Jackson wrote in an email to the Southeast Missourian. "I am standing up for them because I don't think that uniforms will make my kids safer or improve their education," he wrote. "I believe this is a control issue, and an infringement on our personal freedoms ... my kids' freedom to wear clothes that make them feel good about themselves and my and my wife's freedom to parent our own kids and monitor what they wear."

Other parents, like Missy Smith, Clippard Elementary's PTO president, would like to see the district require uniforms.

"I think it will bring an equal balance to all of the students," she said.

Information sent to parents by the committee containing statistics show a positive reaction to dress codes in schools, she said.

She also thinks a stricter dress code would be cost-effective for families, she said, because there are several consignment shops in the area carrying the type of clothing that would likely be required at a discount price.

At the high school

LaKoda Gibson, a freshman at Cape Girardeau Central High School, transferred in from the Scott City School District two months ago.

At the beginning of the school year, Scott City began using its new dress code policy, which requires that students wear solid-color shirts with collars and plain khaki, black or navy pants. Capri pants, shorts and skirts in those colors are also acceptable as long as they meet length requirements, as are jeans as long as they aren't faded and have no holes. Shoes can be slip-on or have laces, and belts must be black, brown or white with no embellishments.

The policy is too strict, Gibson said.

She said she does not want a stricter dress code in Cape Girardeau because she worries that the amount of money it would take to buy clothes to meet requirements would be too hard on people.

"It's also not going to change that there are cliques, or stop fights," she said.

Another freshman, Amanda Webb, said a strict dress code would take away some of the students' voice.

Clothes are how students express themselves, she said.

She said if the school would make all the students follow the dress code in place now, nobody would be even thinking about a new one. But according to her, that doesn't happen.

Principal Dr. Mike Cowan said he is in favor of the district moving to a stricter dress code or requiring uniforms.

There are usually a few students referred to the office each day for dressing inappropriately, Cowan said, and that means there is time taken away that a student could be spending in class. He said he sees a need for it because it would increase the level of dignity for student and it will set a tone at the school that is more academic in nature. There is a place for a higher level of dress, he said, and school is no exception.

If the district does implement one, there will, however, be challenges, he said. There is a high rate of mobility at the high school, meaning students are often transferring in. He questioned if new students would need to have a uniform ready to go when they enroll and the amount of time one would be kept from coming to school with a new policy. The financial investment by parents is also a concern, he said.

Fee said the committee may discuss during it's next meeting whether to survey students.

"We are looking at everything we can find, pro or con," she said. So far the committee's research on other schools that have gone to stricter dress codes or uniform policies shows positive changes, she said, but that she can't say yet whether the committee will recommend a revised dress code or uniforms.

According to Missouri law, a public school district may require students to wear a school uniform or restrict student dress to a particular style and a school district may determine the style and color of the school uniform.

eragan@semissourian.com

388-3627

Pertinent address:

301 N. Clark Ave., Cape Girardeau, MO

1000 S. Silver Springs Rd., Cape Girardeau, MO

205 Caruthers Ave., Cape Girardeau, MO

2880 Hopper Rd., Cape Girardeau, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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