Cape Girardeau School Board to vote on dress code policy Monday

Sunday, February 26, 2012
Students model uniforms in front of the potential uniform policy Monday night, January 9, 2012 during the first of two public forums at the Cape Junior High School auditorium to discuss the possibility of instating a uniform policy at Cape Public Schools. (Laura Simon)

Two public forums, several school board meetings, two surveys, some proposal revisions and hundreds of classroom conversations, emails, Speak Out comments and Facebook posts later, time is drawing nearer to Monday night, when school board members will make a decision on a dress code policy for Cape Girardeau public school students.

The meeting begins at 6 p.m. in the upstairs board room at the central district offices at 301 N. Clark Ave. School board members will by then have taken the time to go through the proposed policy line by line and will be prepared to make changes they deem necessary. Four months ago a committee of administrators and teachers formed and began discussions on requiring students to wear uniforms beginning in August.

Carla Fee, chairwoman of the staff dress code committee and principal of Cape Girardeau Central Junior High School, said it is the committee's hope that the school board won't "water down too much" the proposed policy before the vote.

"If there are too many changes made, we may be right back where we started," she said. Fee said the committee wishes the board will consider not just enforcement of dress codes, but the overall positive climate change that could occur in the school environment with a new policy.

"We want the focus to be academics," she said.

Three members of the public made requests to speak at the meeting before Friday's 5 p.m. deadline to get on the agenda, including Eric Redinger, head of a parent and community committee that wants to see the district's current dress code policies enforced with some new rules applied that would allow students to wear clothes they already own. Board secretary Beth Poyner said the other two people who will speak, Becky Harding and Sheila Long, are parents of students in the district.

Redinger will attempt to present his committee's plan for a dress code to the board in the three minutes allowed by the board's policy.

The dress code proposal that would go into effect at the start of the next school year will pass into policy on a 4-3 vote.

Beth Cox, co-chairwoman of a 55-member community committee that created a stricter dress code policy last year in the Scott City School District, said she has discussed with administrators and parents the transition for students and families since the schools made the change in August. Overall the transition to a new dress code has been positive, she said, as have the results. Administrators districtwide have reported dropping disciplinary incident and growing attendance rates.

As it crafted its proposal, the staff committee in Cape Girardeau looked at statistics on disciplinary incidents from the Caruthersville School District, which adopted a uniform policy in 2010, as well Scott City. Uniform use at St. Vincent school in Cape Girardeau served as a case study for the Caruthersville School District. Since Scott City began its new dress code, Cox said around five additional Southeast Missouri school districts have contacted school officials and committee members inquiring about their process for implementing stricter policies.

Cox said she is disappointed to see that there is an apparent fight over the dress code issue in Cape Girardeau, but said that it may be a normal part of the process and that more clothing options in a new dress code, such as jeans, might help resolve some resistance from parents and students. Allowing jeans was a concession the Scott City committee made while developing its dress code, she said, and it has also likely helped parents save money when they buy school clothes. Cox has two students in Scott City schools and said there is a savings to be had with a stricter dress code policy.

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.

Experts disagree on how uniforms effect school environments. A 2005 book that includes 10 years' worth of compiled research by a University of Missouri-Columbiasociologist, David Brunsma, argues uniform policies have little effect on students' academic performance. Brunsma also wrote "The School Uniform Movement and What It Tells Us About American Education: A Symbolic Crusade," in 2004, in which he said no positive correlation exists between uniforms and school safety or academic achievement for students going from middle school through the time after they graduate high school.

The dress code committee made several revisions to its proposed policy following input from the public and discussions with the school board. The full policy can be viewed online by clicking the link to "Cape Schools Dress Code Proposal" at www.capetigers.com.

eragan@semissourian.com

388-3627

Pertinent addresses:

301 N. Clark Ave., Cape Girardeau, MO

3000 Main St., Scott City, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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