DANVILLE — The topic of school uniforms drew several ministers and a few community members to attend a study session Wednesday conducted by the Danville School District 118 board.
The study session was called so board members could talk about ongoing issues. No action was taken nor any recommendations made at the end of the session.
The topic of school uniforms, which was last discussed during a number of public forums in the summer of 2011, has resurfaced in the last few months. School board member Steve Bragorgos and a few local ministers have brought the issue of school uniforms back to the forefront again.
In 2011, district officials surveyed parents during school registration about whether they were in favor of school uniforms. The survey results indicated that parents preferred that the district enforce its existing dress code policy.
In November, however, three local ministers — Nathan Lenstra, Doug Knapp and Thomas Miller — asked the school board to implement a student uniform policy districtwide. Lenstra said student uniforms would prevent the display of gang colors, would make visitors more visible at the schools and would minimize economic class difference and bullying.
On Wednesday night, Lenstra told board members he and other pastors have been meeting since last summer to discuss the issue of school uniforms.
“It would reduce bullying and comparing clothing they’re wearing, especially those that come from different economic classes,” he said.
Miller, who volunteers at the high school on Thursdays, said, “I do believe uniforms will help with discipline problems. Uniforms would bring students back to a focal point that it’s about school and about getting an education.”
Kelly Powell, a District 118 parent, who opposed school uniforms in 2011, said that although her children were graduated or no longer in the district, she was there to speak out against uniforms for her nieces and nephews who attend District 118.
“Uniforms are not going to work. They will not help in the classroom,” she said. “The kids on the north end will buy their uniforms at Macy’s and the others will buy their uniform clothes at Wal-Mart. It’s a lose-lose situation. The kids are still going to bully.
“What will help is having a balanced calendar (year-round school) at all the schools. Get the test scores up and make them more productive,” she said.
“This comes up every year,” Powell said about school uniforms. “The dress code is perfect. Just follow it.”
Ed Butler, a retired District 118 employee, said he favored school uniforms.
“I think our children should look professional, so they can get down to schoolwork,” he said, adding that he’s seen teenage boys at the high school wear droopy pants.
He also suggested that the district help cash-strapped parents with purchasing the uniforms.
School board members weighed in next on the issue and most appeared to favor having students wear school uniforms.
“Our community is looking for leadership on this and not another poll,” Bragorgos said. He said 86 percent of the district’s teachers supported having students wear school uniforms.
“I think it’s time. It’s not about what the kids want or don’t want; it’s about what’s best for the kids,” he said. “We can’t lose sight of the positive effect it’s going to have on the students.”
Fellow board member Darlene Halloran said she has received emails from community members on the issue “and not one person has not wanted uniforms.”
“Why is a decision left to a survey?” she asked. “It’s a policy decision and we (the board) are in the business of making policy.”
Board member Lon Henderson said he believes school uniforms should be instituted, starting at the high school first, but questioned whether the district would be financially responsible in making sure all students had uniforms and how the high school would discipline students who showed up not wearing a uniform.
“The children who don’t have the means for these uniforms, it’s going to fall on the district,” he said. “Are we going to have a school store where they can buy the uniforms? I believe the financial responsibility is going to fall on the district.
“The high school has 1,600 kids,” Henderson continued. “If 2 percent show up without a uniform, that’s 30 kids. If 5 percent show up without a uniform, that’s 90 kids. Who’s going to deal with them?”
Board member Dr. Randal Ashton said that although he likes the concept of students wearing uniforms, he realizes that mandating uniforms could cause a financial hardship for some families.
“It’s clothes (that have to be bought) in addition to their regular clothes,” he said. “I like uniforms, but I don’t think everyone in the district does. We already have kids who are losing educational time because of discipline issues. Are we going to have kids lose educational time because they didn’t wear a belt?
“I think we have a unique opportunity to be our own laboratory,” Ashton said. “Have three schools in uniforms so we can collect our own data.”
Board president Bill Dobbles said he hadn’t seen any research that says uniforms improve the learning climate.
“Mr. Henderson says he knows of only one public high school in the state (Decatur) that has uniforms, and it’s not working that great,” Dobbles said.
Board member Gina McGuire, whose son attended Northeast Elementary Magnet School where students wear uniforms, said, “It does make a difference in their mindset.
“I think the high school students need (uniforms) more than any of them,” she said. “I know they’re worried they’re going to lose their identity, but if they get a job at Burger King or Taco Bell, they have to wear their uniform.”
Fellow board member Frank Young agreed. “This isn’t going to solve all the problems we have, but you can’t dress the way you do at school and expect to get a job. If we make a policy, it has to be districtwide, and I don’t want to do another survey.”
Also during Wednesday’s study session, a financial update of the district was presented by business director Heather Smith. A reduction in state aid and higher insurance costs might force the district to make staff and program cuts in the spring and to tap into the district’s reserves.
The board also reviewed the district’s facilities. Ron Henton, director of buildings and grounds, presented an overview of health and life safety work to be completed in the district. Henton said the district doesn’t have the money to do many of the projects and might have to ask the state for an extension.
Lastly, board members explored academics and student achievement, including the impact of Common Core Standards.
COMING UP The District 118's Ownership in Education Committee will meet at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 28, in the cafetorium at South View Middle School. The committee is expected to discuss school uniforms.