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Uniforms may be required
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Middle Ridge Elementary students may have a whole new look next year, at least as far as their clothes go.

Middle Ridge Principal Karen Crowder gave a presentation at Board of Education work session meeting Tuesday and asked for the members to consider implementing a uniform dress code for 2008-2009.

If approved, the plan would require Middle Ridge students to wear shorts, skirts or plain pants in navy, blue or black, and plain T-shirts in the same colors with the addition of white. The short and skirt length must fall below the fingertips.

Surveys to gauge interest in 2007 revealed the majority of the respondents were against the change.

But, according to her presentation, that sentiment has changed. After presenting the idea to the PTO, subsequent surveys have come back in favor of the dress code.

"It's challenging to get replies to votes at our school," Crowder said. "But we've been persistent in trying to get everyone the information and have a voice in this matter."

Ficquett, Porterdale and Heard-Mixon elementary schools currently impose a similar dress code.

According to Ficquett Principal Miriam Wilkins, who was a teacher 8 years ago when the school started their uniform program, the students focus on school rather than what they look like.

"They aren't showing off their shoes or their clothes all the time," she said. "The kids don't have to worry about what they are going to wear everyday and they don't waste time showing off their new clothes. Kids want to look the same."

Still, not every parent jumps onboard and the school has its occasional student who bucks the system. But Wilkins says those instances are few and far between.

"We have a few children who come in on a daily basis and don't wear the appropriate clothing," she added. "We even have had some parents choose to withdraw their students because the parents don't want to conform. But for the most part, we don't have any problems."

Board member C.C. Bates acknowledged that the BOE has fielded complaints from parents in schools who currently impose the dress code.

"I have received phone calls from parents at Ficquett who are required to send their kids to school in uniforms and don't want to," Bates said. "I think it's a great thing and I wish everyone was wearing uniforms, but I just wonder where the rubber hits the road if we adopt this."

Superintendent Steven Whatley also understands some parents are concerned with dress codes.

"Is there support of this among our parents?" he asked. "It goes to the heart of the question of whether there is support for the program."

Whatley added that any problems associated with the dress code are handled at the school level.

"We have normally said, any dissension or concern expressed about the dress code goes to the school council as stated in the handbook," he said. "Those issues are dealt with at the school."

According to Crowder, some parents are concerned with the idea of buying new clothes for their children.

But she says her plan gives new students a grace period and calls on donations to help subsidize the expenses.

As an incentive, Crowder says the plan will allow students, who meet certain goals or requirements, to wear clothes of their choice on certain days. Similar incentives have proven successful at Ficquett.

Introducing a dress code will undoubtedly take some convincing, but Crowder says she has a plan to set parents and students at ease.

"We would mail out flyers and information to inform parents first," Crowder said. "We also encourage other parents to talk to one another to encourage everyone's participation.

"We would have a fashion show at our school to let the children see what they look like as well as invite our community stores to have them there at our open house and end of the year days to get the information out to encourage the plan."

Ultimately, Crowder believes the benefits of a uniform dress code outweigh the costs and hopes the parents and community jump onboard.

"We feel like if the students wear the same clothes, they won't tease each other about what they're wearing," she said. "It won't be so easy to distinguish between the student's background and that's important too."