School uniform plan advances

Published: Wednesday, January 14, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 13, 2009 at 11:20 p.m.

The School Board will forge ahead with a proposal for mandatory school uniforms.

The next step in the process should bring lively debate: getting input from students' families.

Under a plan discussed Tuesday morning, the school district is expected to send out a questionnaire in February to measure support among school employees and student households. Then, the board would schedule meetings in March to get public input.

Expecting a packed house, Chairwoman Tina Pinkoson, currently the lone board member opposed to uniforms, said those meetings should move to a larger venue than the approximately 100-seat boardroom at the Kirby-Smith Center.

There are no dates set yet for those meetings or any formal School Board vote on whether to require uniforms. At this point, there is no proposed policy in writing either.

Tuesday, Pinkoson also suggested that the board members who do support uniforms create a pilot program at one school or a handful. Other board members felt that would just lead to transfers away from that school.

"Unless we do a mandatory uniform (policy), it's not going to work," said Board member Barbara Sharpe, who proposed uniforms during a prior stint in office.

That campaign eventually resulted in a school district policy still on the books and one Sharpe opposes. It allows individual schools to opt for uniforms if 80 percent of student families, faculty members and school advisory council members who take part in a survey vote to support them.

This current round of discussion on uniforms started last fall with Board Member Wes Eubank. He supports uniforms for safety reasons, saying they can help differentiate between who belongs on campus and who does not and make it more difficult to smuggle a weapon onto campus.

Sharpe believes they could decrease peer pressure to dress in expensive styles. Other board members feel uniforms could cut down on families' clothing costs while Pinkoson is concerned they'll cost families more.

Eubank has suggested modeling a K-12 uniform policy on one that the school district of Osceola County put in place this school year. With a few exceptions, Osceola requires students to wear navy or khaki colored pants, shorts or skirts and Oxford or polo-style shirts in the colors white or blue.

Florida law gives school boards the authority to require uniforms if they deem them "necessary for the safety or welfare of the student body or school personnel."

A dress code requirement in Polk County for K-8 students, which is similar to Osceola's uniform policy, was challenged in a federal lawsuit filed in 1999. In late 2002, a federal judge based in Tampa ruled the Polk school district's policy was constitutional.

Alachua County School District Attorney Tom Wittmer said the board has enough time to put a uniform policy in effect for next school year.

Contact Christopher Curry at 374-5088 or

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