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Clothing doesn't make a school system great
By A TIMES EDITORIAL
Published August 15, 2007
The Pasco School District has more pressing matters than starched khakis and polo shirts.
A partial list includes school crowding, student academic achievement, recruiting and retaining teachers, and curbing squabbles between the administration and its employee union.
Inside the classroom, administrators and teachers are implementing a state mandate for physical education in addition to required 90-minute reading blocks while ensuring the district's outside consultant's tactic, Learning Focused Strategies, is being used effectively.
Later this week, the school board meets with state legislators in advance of what is expected to be mandatory budget cuts when the Legislature reconciles state spending with a revenue shortfall. Next week, the district opens the doors to 64,000 students and christens five new schools even though some will be meeting in portable classrooms until physical construction is completed.
So amid all this activity, a desire for mandatory school uniforms is out of place. Board member Kathryn Starkey broached the idea last week after returning from Africa where she watched students in matching apparel attend classes.
The idea is not new to Pasco. A decade ago, the district allowed voluntary uniform policies at Weightman Middle and Lake Myrtle and Denham Oaks elementary schools. The efforts died from apathy and an inability to deliver the apparel in a timely manner.
In those instances, the push for the experiment came from individual school advisory councils. This time, it will be construed as a heavy-handed, top down suggestion from a board member.
The district formalized its current student dress code in 2000. The standard calls for students to wear "modest clothing of such style and design as shall be consistent with community standards as determined by the school principal." It prohibits sexually explicit clothing, bikini and tank tops, spandex, and shorts and skirts that rise more than 4 inches above the knee. It has worked with little public complaint.
Starkey picked an odd time to rekindle the uniform debate considering the grief Superintendent Heather Fiorentino took last summer before retreating from a suggested dress code for teachers that would have banned popular Capri pants. Even some School Board members weighed in silently by wearing the prohibited apparel to board meetings.
We acknowledge some successes surrounding school uniforms, most notably in Long Beach, Calif., in the mid-1990s. There, crime and suspensions dropped after the district required uniforms in 70 of its elementary and middle schools. But the effort in Long Beach was aimed at curbing gang-related violence and other problems that are foreign to Pasco schools.
Uniforms are not a cure-all. It takes more than the clothes on your back to dress up the educational environment within an individual school. Starkey, a competent and high-energy board member, should focus her attention on more tangible ways to boost student performance.