By Curt Yeomans
High school students who attended the Clayton County Board of Education meeting Monday were in agreement when it came to the issue of following a uniform-dress policy.
"I hate it going into my senior year," said Zapporah Yisrael, 16, a rising 12th-grader at Lovejoy High School. "We're [seniors] finally on top of the school and we have to wear uniforms."
The school board voted 6-2 on Monday to adopt a uniform-dress policy for the county's nine high schools this fall. Board members Trinia Garrett and Michael King were the dissenting voices. Board member Pamela Adamson was not present at the meeting.
The new policy means that when students go to their closets to get dressed for the first day of the 2009-2010 school year on Aug. 10, they will have a limited selection of what to wear. Their choices will be shorts or slacks (or skorts or skirts for females) that are black, blue or khaki, and button-down or Polo-style shirts that are either white, gray, black, light blue or in their school's colors.
On June 29, Clayton County schools' Assistant Superintendent of High Schools Derrick Manning told the school board that 65.9 percent of respondents to a parent survey conducted in the spring said they would support either school uniforms, or uniform dress.
Students in elementary and middle schools are already required to follow a uniform-dress policy at their schools.
Melissa Messick, a rising ninth-grader at Jonesboro High School, said she and her friends had been looking forward to wearing whatever they wanted in high school, after spending their eighth-grade year at M.D. Roberts Middle School abiding by a uniform-dress policy. She said she had been spending her summer picking out new school clothes for high school.
But on Monday, Messick asked school board members to vote against adopting uniform dress for herself and other high school students. She also read from letters, which she told the school board members were from friends who were also against a uniform-dress policy.
She also said that despite the middle schools having a uniform-dress policy in place last year, some students still came to school with sagging pants and untucked shirts.
"Uniforms doesn't solve the problem. It only picks out the colors," Messick said.
The shift in attire for high school students did not just draw the ire of students. Adults, including parents and school board members, were split on the issue.
"If we have a uniform-dress policy, it will be easier to tell who is supposed to be at the school and who is not," said Searless Hathaway, a grandmother of a Mount Zion High School student. "It not only provides safety for our students. It also provides safety for our teachers and administrators as well. Our students are there to learn, not to be distracted by outside influences."
Seretina Yisrael, mother of Zapporah Yisrael, said she has no problem with a uniform-dress policy, but she wanted to see the district provide parents with more information about where they can buy uniforms. She also said she wishes there was more time to prepare for the policy's implementation.
"I would like to have more time to buy the uniforms," Seretina Yisrael said. "There's only four weeks between now and when school starts."
During discussion on the dress-code proposal, school board member Jessie Goree said she believed it was needed to provide security for high school students. She also pointed to professions in the workforce in which uniforms are required.
"If you look at the professions of the high-paid individuals in the world, they wear uniforms," Goree said. "Doctors wear lab coats and scrubs. The highest paid people out there, the professional football, basketball and baseball players, have to wear uniforms as well. Even the president of the United States has to wear some form of uniform, although in his case, it's a suit."
School board member King said he voted against the uniform-dress policy because he did not believe it would foster improved academic performance by students. "I don't believe there is a correlation between uniform dress in grade school and increased student achievement," King said. "We should focus on policies we already have on the books to improve discipline."
After the board took its vote, Tracey Messick, mother of Melissa Messick, said she supported her daughter in the argument against uniform dress. She also said she believes the school system will have trouble enforcing it.
"If it's not enforced, the [uniform-dress policy] will not make a difference," Tracey Messick said. "It targets a small portion of students who do not follow the existing dress code. The kids who are going to follow this policy are the ones who are already following the dress code."
In other action, the school board unanimously gave its approval for the school system to begin soliciting possible names from the public for the county's kindergarten-through-eighth-grade school that is under construction in Lovejoy.
School board Chairperson Alieka Anderson also read a statement welcoming new Superintendent Edmond Heatley to the school system on behalf of the other school board members.