The Columbus school district is ready to shelve the issue of mandatory uniforms due to lack of public support, but Superintendent Gene Harris would like a committee to look at enforcing the current dress code.
Kwesi Kambon, director of equity and multicultural education and the facilitator of the District Uniform Committee said the committee took a survey of parents and found that, while 70 percent claimed to be in favor of school uniforms at some level of school, only 45 percent of parents supported mandatory uniforms for middle school and 38 percent supported uniforms for high school students.
"This doesn’t sound like a mandate from the parental side for uniforms," said board member W. Shawna Gibbs.
Harris said that unless something changes, the district will shelve the mandatory school uniforms for the time being, but the District Uniform Committee is still charged with reviewing current dress code regulations already in effect, as well as their enforcement.
"Our students like their freedom and they like their own individuality and creativity and I just think that plays into parents thoughts about students uniforms. This is not the time for that. It would be interesting to know what parents think about dress code enforcement, the current policies and what is appropriate dress," said Harris.
Kambon said in addition to sending out the surveys to parents, the committee also spoke to administrators at other large urban school districts in Ohio that started mandatory uniforms, such as Cleveland and Toledo.
They also contacted legal counsel for advice regarding Ohio’s legal requirements regarding uniforms, and contacted school officials at Long Beach Unified school district in California, the first school in the nation to mandate school uniforms in 1994.
The committee members consisted of students, parents, community representatives, administrators and teachers. Kambon said the Cleveland schools emphasized that Columbus have a communication strategy if school uniforms are mandated.
"Cleveland officials also stressed to us this is a major initiative for a district, much like a levy, and this initiative could consume a large amount of staff time and we should only consider it if we don’t have a lot of other things on our plate," said Kambon.
That plate is getting pretty full.
The district is considering placing an operating levy on the fall ballot, and is also looking for founding to continue its construction program.
Board Vice President Carol Perkins was disappointed with the results.
"I think mandatory school uniforms goes further in preparing our students. If you look around this table, we’ve got a dress code. Men have suits and ties. I think it’s really important to prepare our young people to enter the workplace and that you don’t always have the opportunity to come as you are and wear what you want to in the workplace. I would have thought more parents would buy into being able to cultivate that type of attitude at an early age," said Perkins.
Gibbs offered a differing point of view.
"I went to a school that very early on did not have a dress code when the rest of the high schools did, before it became an issue in the district. My alma mater continues to be one of the highest-performing schools without a dress code issue," said Gibbs. "I hope that in the implementation, the journey we’re taking on enforcing a dress code doesn’t also stifle individual expression of personalities for those kids who follow the rules. We have tons of kids who don’t break the dress code."
Getting parents involved
In other board news, Parents for Public Schools of Greater Cincinnati (PPS) and the Parent Leadership Institute (PLI) are teaming up to launch the first statewide parent-meeting institute in Columbus. PLI is designed to train parents on how to work effectively with school administrators and staff within their schools and their communities.
Robin Taylor, president of Columbus PTAs, will take part in this endeavor as a coach with the parents, and will help the parents, in addition to the six-day training they will receive, develop and implement projects in the parents’ schools in order to train parents to be better advocates for the children and to improve student achievement.
"Just as expectations for teachers and students have been raised for higher academic standards, accountability and testing, expectations for parents have been raised as well," said Taylor.
Parents will learn how to approach school staff with issues or concerns, and find out how the district works and where to go for services. There will also be a roundtable discussion in which participants will present a project based on data from their own school to district leaders and receive feedback on their designs.
Zakia McKinney, Executive Director of PPS said the parents will then go back to their own schools to present these projects.
Gibbs applauded the group’s efforts to get more parents involved.
"We see so many great things that you bring to us that we want to be a part of it. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?"