By Lynette Norris
Greene Publishing, Inc.
After Madison County Central School adopted a school uniform policy a couple of years ago, the three elementary schools, Lee, Pinetta and Greenville soon followed suit.
However, not all parents are in agreement with the school uniform policy that requires children to wear khaki pants instead of jeans with their school shirts. At the April 15 school board meeting, Selina Sexton and Rodger Jones both spoke to the board members to protest the the uniform policy, calling it “a burden to parents,” many of whom live below the poverty line in Madison County. They requested that the policy be amended to allow jeans every day of the week instead of special days like “jeans Friday.” Sexton also had a petition signed by about 30 other parents, asking that the uniform policy be changed.
Not only did the parents struggle to buy the uniforms, Sexton told the board, “The lighter colors, the khakis and so forth, stain easily. These are kids. They play rough, and they eat messy.”
Once the pants were stained, it was often difficult to remove the stains without a $25 or $30 bottle of stain cleaning product.
Jones, who had joined Sexton at the podium, said that he was a “kind of a worst-case scenario” concerning uniforms. His son had gone through 21 pairs of pants that year, and at $10 a shot, it was getting pretty expensive. The uniform pants were poorly made and just didn’t hold up, he told the board, adding that he had taken brand-new pants out of their plastic packaging, only to find the stitching already coming undone. Meanwhile, his son’s jeans were still as good as they had been when school started in September.
Sexton pointed out that under the Florida Statutes, a school could require uniforms only for student safety or welfare reasons. She didn’t see any safety or welfare reasons to justify the policy, and neither did any of the parents she had spoken with, many of whom were working two jobs to pay their bills and couldn’t be at the school board meeting with her.
School board member Bart Alford added that it was the schools who had come to the board and asked for the uniform policy and that the principals had supported it.
School Superintendent Doug Brown said that when the school uniform idea had been presented to the district, it had been touted as a more budget-friendly way to dress kids for school.
“Whose budget?” Sexton asked. A lot of families in the Madison school district lived below the poverty line, depending on thrift stores, or knowing someone with slightly older children who could pass along hand-me-downs. There was also a question of whether or not the uniforms were available locally, and how such families could afford to drive to Valdosta or elsewhere to buy uniforms. Then there was the added burden of maintaining two different sets of clothes for each child: one set for in-school and one set for out of school, for both summer and winter seasons.
“As a school board member, I have no problem with the kids wearing blues jeans,” said Kenny Hall. “As long as they don’t have holes in them…but whatever all the schools are doing, it needs to be the same.” It also needed to be resolved before school was out in May.
“Please put this on the agenda,” said Sexton.
Superintendent Brown said that the board had the ability to survey a lot of parents rather quickly and get more parental input The next step was to start doing that and hold discussions with teachers and principals, “So we can address this issue rather quickly.”