By Curt Yeomans
Students at Clayton County's eight high schools may not be able to wear baggy jeans, or shirts with brand-name logos emblazoned across their chests, in school next year - if their parents approve either school uniforms, or the less stringent, uniform dress, this week.
Parents have until Friday to fill out surveys for the school system, which will show whether they want the district's high schools to join their elementary and middle school counterparts in mandating uniforms or uniform dress for the 2009-2010 school year.
The high school parents will be given a choice between a policy of uniforms, which has more specific guidelines for the style of clothing to be worn, or one of uniform dress, which has general guidelines that simply require shirts, pants or skirts to be in certain colors. The district will require approval from as many as 80 percent of survey respondents before a change can be implemented, School System Spokesman John Lyles said.
"We want to make sure we are transparent in the decisions we make, and we also want to make sure parents are involved in decisions that affect the welfare of their children," Lyles said. "We think it's important to have their buy-in, as well as the buy-in of the students."
If enough parents at all eight high schools approve the dress-code change, it will mean students at every school in Clayton County will be required to show up in either school uniforms or uniform dress on Aug. 10, the first day of the next school year.
Last summer, the school system implemented uniform dress for all pre-kindergartners through sixth-graders. Jonesboro, Kendrick, Morrow, Pointe South, Rex Mill and Sequoyah middle schools also require seventh- and eighth-graders to comply with a uniform dress code.
The existing policy for elementary and middle school students consists of all students wearing polo, or dress, shirts that are white or in the school's colors. Male students also have to wear khaki, or black pants or shorts, while female students have to wear either skirts or jumpers.
"While the district is sending out the survey to all affected students throughout Clayton County, the results will be tabulated and implemented by the schools," said Assistant Superintendent of High Schools Derrick Manning, in a written statement. "We will be held to the same criteria as the elementary and middle schools when determining if there is sufficient interest."
David Hudson, who studies free speech issues in public schools for Vanderbilt University's First Amendment Center, said studies show parent and student opposition is a common challenge to implementing a school uniform, or uniform dress policy, because those groups see them as "stiffling individuality."
Hudson said one of the arguments typically used by uniform-dress proponents is that it reduces the number of hazing incidents that are started over the clothes a student is wearing. He said opponents, however, argue that uniforms infringe upon individual freedoms of expression, and a parent's right to raise his or her children as he or she deems appropriate.
"One of the ways we express ourselves is through the clothing we wear, and sometimes, our clothing sends off certain messages about who we are," Hudson said. "If you have a uniform-dress policy, it silences all of those messages."
Hudson said it is a good idea to seek parental approval before implementing a uniform-dress policy, though. "If you don't seek parental input, then, it's more likely that you'll have heated opposition from parents once you implement the policy," Hudson said. "They'll see it as the government stepping in, and telling them what's best for their children."
Cyd Cox, president of the Clayton County Council of PTA's [Parent Teacher Association], said more than 80 percent of the members of PTA chapters at each high school said they supported school uniforms through informal surveys conducted earlier this year. Cox's daughter, Kaitlyn, is a sophomore at Jonesboro High School.
"They [parents who responded to the survey] feel it will help their children concentrate more if they are not focusing on what they are wearing to school, or what their friends are wearing," Cox said. "But, several of them also feel they would not need school uniforms, if the [current] dress code was enforced."