By Melissa Slager Herald Writer
Edmonds School Board members on Tuesday discussed a proposal to allow individual schools to start requiring student uniforms.*
The board did not like the wording on the proposal, and asked district staff to return to a future meeting with a rewrite. When that happens, they will reconsider adopting a change in policy.
Nothing will change unless the school board votes to adopt a new dress code policy.
Parent groups at two Lynnwood elementary schools expressed interest last year in allowing their schools to require uniforms, sparking the conversation.
“I think people have this idea when they hear ‘uniform’ they think a Catholic school-type uniform with a navy blue blazer with insignia. That’s not remotely what’s been discussed,” said Scott Spears, incoming chairman of the Citizens Planning Committee, which drafted the initial proposal.
The group is proposing that schools be allowed to set specific dress codes, which could require uniforms. Parents would be able to opt out of the uniform requirements.
Uniforms of nationally recognized youth groups, such as Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, and clothing worn in observance of a student’s religion, such as headscarves, would not be subject to the dress code policy.
Some board members still have concerns about the procedures that would be needed to put such a policy in place.
“They don’t feel there’s a hurry because nobody’s going to process this and do it for next year,” school district spokeswoman DJ Jakala said.
District administrators were not available at an earlier meeting to answer school board members’ questions and came ready with answers at Tuesday’s meeting. For example, more than three-quarters of parents at a school would need to approve of uniforms for the idea to move ahead.
School board members on Tuesday asked for more explicit language that would send schools through the school board for final approval on dress code policies.
“That was our main concern,” board member Diana White said.
School leaders stress that the proposal isn’t seeking to make uniforms a requirement for the entire district.
“It sets up the groundwork if a parent group is interested enough to pursue that,” White said. “I feel like it’s a long way off. But the steps are there if they want to take them, and I admire any group that wants to take it on.”
Principals from College Place Elementary and Cedar Valley Community schools last year had asked about school uniforms after hearing feedback from parents. The school board asked the Citizens Planning Committee in September to draft a policy, since none currently exists. A subcommittee of the group discussed the topic and wrote and rewrote the language. The proposed policy was then read and approved by the full planning group twice and forwarded on to the school board for consideration in January.
Many parents at Cedar Valley Community School remain interested in school uniforms, a topic they’ve researched and discussed for a year and a half. Current principal Charlotte Beyer is retiring this year, however, and a new principal would need to officially poll the school.
Cedar Valley has a large population of low-income and non-English speaking families. Many families come from countries where school uniforms are the norm.
“All parents naturally want to kind of level the playing field. It’s also something a lot of people are used to and they wonder why we don’t,” said Kelly Guillaume, incoming president of the school’s PSO, a parent group.
Parents also see school uniforms as a tool to help improve achievement by setting a tone, Guillaume added. “It signifies that they’re ready to work, they’re ready to learn.”
“There’s enough parent support at Cedar Valley that it will continue to be a topic of discussion,” she said. “At the initial meetings it was very, very positive. But polling a whole school is different than just people who come to a meeting.”
In the nearby Everett School District, students at Whittier Elementary School for 17 years have been required to wear uniforms unless their parents opt out. There is no district policy on school uniforms in Everett. Instead, the policy was set by the school and approved through a resolution by the Everett School Board in 1996.
The idea has sparked a lot of conversation in the Edmonds district.
White noted that she was surprised that high-school students who advise the school board liked the idea. “They surprisingly said yeah, that would make it easier. But then I’ve also talked to other people who are definitely not supportive.”
Spears said the topic generated a lot of conversations for the Citizens Planning Committee and beyond. “The parent meetings that I go to, it was the one that everybody was interested in,” Spears said.
Correction, June 13, 2013: A version of this story posted Wednesday night incorrectly described what transpired at the Edmonds School District board meeting on Tuesday. No decision was made on whether to allow schools to require students to wear uniforms.