January 12, 2010 9:48:00 AM
Starkville school officials intend for their students to wear uniforms in class next year as part of stepped up safety efforts, but the policy change came on a split decision.
All five board members were present for the Monday meeting where they voted 3-2 to implement a dress code policy to be designed by the administration and brought back to the school board. Superintendent Judy Couey said she hopes to present a proposed policy to the board in a month.
Pickett Wilson made the motion for uniforms and was seconded by Eddie Myles. Board President Walter Taylor joined them in voting for the measure while Bill Weeks and Keith Coble voted against. The great majority of the school board''s votes are unanimous, and rarely is a vote split so closely.
"The only reason we''re doing this is to be able to quickly identify someone on our campuses," Couey said. "If we''re going to have a true safety policy for our students, we have to look at all things."
She made it clear that safety was the reason she recommended the policy for students and staff.
"The issue of whether or not we will have uniforms is not something I wish to debate anymore," she said.
Couey said in the meeting that there were two instances in the past year "that indicated a need for uniforms to be able to identify students and faculty. Uniforms are not the end-all solution for all problems, but they are part of the plan."
Later, Couey said the two incidents involved high school students not enrolled in Starkville public schools who tried to blend in with Starkville students. One tried to get on a bus, and another got in a classroom at the high school and tried to provoke a fight with a student.
Three parents attended the meeting to hear the discussion on school uniforms and spoke up from the audience during the board''s discussion. From their seats, all expressed displeasure at parents not having a voice in this decision. One mother said she tried Monday morning to get on the board''s agenda but was not told how to do this.
Many public boards have a time for anyone to appear before them and speak for a limited time without being placed on the agenda. The Starkville School District does not have such a time for public comment.
In 2009, the school district conducted two surveys to measure public sentiment toward school uniforms. Results for both were fairly close. Couey called them inconclusive and said they failed to get an adequate response. Criticism of these surveys involved the limited size of the respondent pool and the ability of a person to vote more than once.
Couey also noted Monday, "The incidents had not occurred when the original polling took place."
Uniforms alone will not solve the safety issue, Couey said. Other parts of the safety plan will include student IDs, building perimeters and limited access to facilities.
"In the past year, the Starkville School District has completely overhauled the safety and security of the transportation department, installing cameras, microphones and navigation systems," said Nicole Thomas, the school district''s public information officer. "The passage of a school bond issue has allowed the Starkville School District to create safer campuses with modernized technology. The district has also adopted an alert notification system which includes voice and e-mail messaging for parents and staff."
"With several large campuses, implementing a uniform policy is a reasonable next step toward making our students and our campuses even safer," Couey said.
Staff will also be required to wear uniforms, Couey said, and input from school administrators will be used in developing staff uniform guidelines.
"The objective is safety. As a board member, it is our job to see to the safety of our students and our staff first," Myles sad before the vote.
In making the motion, Wilson said the board is "legally responsible for the safety of our kids."