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School District’s Broadest Uniform Policy Survey: Tepid Support and No Effect on Discipline or Grades

| March 2, 2015

A survey on Flagler schools' dress code answers a few questions, but not necessarily as board members might have expected. (Bram Cymet)

A survey on Flagler schools’ dress code answers a few questions, but not necessarily as board members might have expected. (Bram Cymet)

The broadest survey to date on the Flagler County school district’s dress code—including students, parents, faculty and residents unaffiliated with schools—found a wide disparity between student disdain for the code and adult acceptance of it. That’s no surprise.

This was: there is no outright support for the policy—not even majority support—among adults, including faculty. Majorities in all categories think the policy should be changed, even though only students find it too strict, most students and adults agree that it’s enforceable, and all, including students, agree that it’s understandable.

With more than 2,000 respondents to the survey, conducted by computer through the school district’s website in February, the results point to just tepid acceptance of the policy rather than solid approval. They point to stronger, clearer support for change: almost two-thirds of adult respondents, including faculty, want to see the policy “updated, changed or adjusted” (and 92 percent of students do).

But when it comes to specific changes, such as one proposed by Michael Manning, the student representative on the school board—allowing students to wear school-based t-shirts every day, instead of just Fridays—support is again lukewarm, but majorities among students (62 percent) and faculty (53 percent) but no such majorities among parents and residents at large, who are closer to the 48 percent range.

“Just showing how close it was to 50-50 from parents and community members is an encouraging sign to change it,” Manning said Monday. “That is the change I’m pushing for and that’s what I’m going to continue asking for.”

Most stark of all, if not necessarily surprising: barely more than a third of faculty members or parents think the dress code policy has improved classroom behavior. There’s never been reliable data elsewhere showing that uniform policies or dress codes have an appreciable effect on behavior at school, though that was one of the claims board members made more than three years ago when they adopted the policy. This is the first evidence in Flagler showing that, at least as parents and faculty members see it, there’s been no change, either. (Only 7 percent of students think their dress code improves classroom behavior.)

The numbers and discussions with staff and others are causing even Colleen Conklin, who chairs the school board and who was among the policy’s strongest supporters three years ago, to rethink her position on the dress code.

“There doesn’t seem to be an overwhelming sense one way or the other in regards to the results of this survey, it’s kind of middle of the road, to a degree, good or bad,” Conklin said in an interview Monday. He said she was anxious to hear the administration’s recommendation regarding Manning’s proposal. But Conklin’s thinking is going beyond that proposal.

“We’re not seeing our policy translate into a direct correlation into higher student achievement, and a direct correlation into decreased student discipline issues,” Conklin said. “For me personally when I begin to look at the amount of time our professional staff, our administrators are spending on enforcing our policy, it causes me to stop to think whether or not this is the best policy for our school district.”

“We’re not seeing our policy translate into a direct correlation into higher student achievement,” the school board’s chairperson says.

Conklin stresses: the dress code isn’t going away, as far as she’s concerned. But now that it’s been in place three years, the district has enough data to rethink its purpose and application, and redefine its reach within the doable. “Students need to understand, the whole reason we are in this situation and we even instituted a dress code policy to begin with is students need to be mindful and respectful of what they wear to school,” Conklin said. “I have no interest in returning to the days of seeing anybody’s body parts.”

In the run-up to the policy’s adoption, supporters said that the policy would simplify parental decisions in the morning, among other expected advantages. Even those responses in the survey proved lukewarm: less than 50 percent of faculty agree with that notion, while just 55 percent of parents do, and 34 percent don’t. Students, of course, disagree overwhelmingly. There are no majorities in any groups saying that purchasing clothes for school has been less expensive overall as a result of the policy, though overall, more parents say that that’s been the case rather than not.

The 14-question survey also drew hundreds of comments, Katrina Townsend, the district’s student services director, who oversaw the survey, said. And up to a fifth of respondents in many of the questions chose to answer neither yes or no.

“I think the comments is where some of that is clarified,” Townsend said Monday. “Even with the staff, their comments are, ‘it needs to be updated, you need to be more specific about outer wear, because it’s very difficult for us to make decisions about outerwear.’”

Michael Manning.

Michael Manning.

Townsend is not sure where the board will go with the results, even though the board may seek out the administration’s recommendation. “Our task was essentially to gather the data, which we’ve done so that they can make a decision about it. And I really don’t know where they’re going to go with it tomorrow.”

One thing Townsend was certain about. “The current dress code, I wish it had never been called a uniform policy, because it’s really not a uniform,” she said. “Essentially it boils down to a collar, polo or button-up, and a pair of jeans, although there’s so many other things you can wear. You can wear white pants, black pants, blue pants, blue jeans, khaki. So when you’re looking at the student body in the hallway, it doesn’t really look like a uniform at all, and so a lot of the students are now saying that the way it’s too strict is they want to be able to wear a t-shirt every day, and I think that’s to be expected. I don’t know that what they’re wearing right now is something they really hate other than the fact that it’s something they have to wear.”

Whatever direction the board takes, Conklin said she hopes a final decision will be taken. She is not interested in instituting a pilot program until the end of the year, then revisiting the matter yet again. As for Manning, who has been the most effective student board representative in the past four years, he may push for yet another issue in the few months left on his term (“The Matanzas High School dirt parking lot is in desperate need of being paved,” the University of South Florida-bound senior said, “we’ve been open now 10 years and it’s 10 years too late, that needs to get a move on”) but the dress code was his “number one issue.”

Lukewarm or not, the survey numbers at least appear to have strengthened Manning’s case. “Looking at that as a whole, I’m more open to looking at Michael’s proposal,” Conklin said, though the initiative still needs at least a three-vote majority.

The board is discussing the issue during a 5 p.m. workshop Tuesday, when it does not vote on items, but may give the administration direction based on the board’s consensus.

Flagler Schools Dress Code Survey (2015)

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10 Responses for “School District’s Broadest Uniform Policy Survey: Tepid Support and No Effect on Discipline or Grades”

  1. devrie says:

    At the beginning, I didn’t really care, and it was easier to dress little ones, but over time, it’s become more cumbersome to maintain two sets of clothes, especially when the Polo shirts are inexpensive but kids don’t want to wear them outside of school. That said, I can certainly see where the new policy would seem easier to enforce. It’s not as subjective as other types of clothing.

    As to outer wear, I wish the school could be somewhat lenient on that, because it many cases, the kids don’t need much outerwear save for a few days in the winter, which makes finding the right outerwear frustrating, especially if they already have something from a grandparent or relative. It’s Florida.

  2. Ed Man says:

    Now maybe the Board and administrators can work on real solutions to the district’s problems. Uniforms were and are a false strawman to distract people from the important issues that need to be honestly worked on and solved.

  3. Lancer says:

    The uniforms were effective in one respect; they make kids dress appropriately.

    If that can be achieved without “uniforms”…go ahead.

  4. Lin says:

    It’s about discipline

    And about no competition in clothing between students

    Not something that can be quantified in a questionnaire

    • Nancy N. says:

      No competition about clothing between students? You’re kidding, right? The kids are still allowed to wear jeans, jewelry, shoes, and other items over which there is TONS of competition for who is wearing the “correct” and most expensive item. You can’t create social utopia with a polo shirt.

    • Tyler says:

      As a current MHS senior I would like to clarify that there is not nor ever has been any conflict between students based on “what brand or type of clothing they have.” Sure, people fight once in a while, but the case brought up during a fight is never “He had a striped shirt on. He was asking for it!” I do not feel that I’ve had more academic success now that I cannot wear a non-collared, non-designed shirt to school. If anything, the new policy has hindered the ability of students to learn because the primary focus of administrators is to bust students for having a striped or plad shirt, and not for jumping to the front of lunch lines or making rude comments to someone else, because those things do go unnoticed in the presence of administrators. Students are now forced to sit in “the hold” all day and miss all of their course material for the day simply because they had a T-shirt on. As a student I value my education and I feel it is wrong that I could be deprived of that because of my dress. I also believe that self expression amongst peers is very important in development and to not allow any form of expression besides the color of a polo shirt does not suffice for that.

  5. tulip says:

    It’s a dress code we have here, not uniforms and I think it has a more positive effect than negative. I feel sorry that the School Board is so wishy washy about decisions. Good role model for students. Not.

    I heard on tv that the state is considering paying the school $10.00 per student if the school goes to uniforms. Let’s see how that shakes out with the school system. Money can be very convincing.

  6. A says:

    Lin: The dress code has had zero positive impact on discipline in my experience–as a matter of fact, it has resulted in multiple instances of disciplinary actions for students who otherwise would never have been written up, especially in the days of the infamous color requirements. And as far as I could tell, not only was clothing competition not really an issue before the dress code, but if that’s something people will be judgemental about, then they’ll figure out a way to do that no matter what–polo shirt/jeans brand, accessories, etc.

    Tulip: what positive effect has this had? Are you involved with any of the schools that have this policy in place and have to deal with enforcing it? (This is an honest question and not meant to be belittling–I am curious to see if there has been any hidden benefit to this, though I suspect that this is not the case.) It is honestly more of a waste of time than anything, especially when students have to miss large fractions of class time, up to and including entire class periods, sitting in the dean’s office waiting for a shirt with a collar on it or a pair of jeans without holes in the knees. Neither of these things will cause the world to end or anybody’s educational environment to be disrupted if they are not “corrected”. The only effect any of this has had in my experience is forcing students and their families to buy new wardrobes that are rarely–if ever–worn outside of school, which is simply not financially practical for some.

    There are plenty of ways to dress “appropriately” that do not involve any specific style of shirt or pants. There are many, many jobs in which we will not be told exactly what to wear or what is appropriate, and will have to figure it out for ourselves–why not allow those mistakes to be made in high school, where the worst consequence will be maybe a suspension for really egregious violations, rather than later on, when this could cost a promotion, a transaction, or a job?

  7. Nancy N. says:

    “No effect on discipline or grades.”

    I seem to recall standing in the board meetings telling them that would be the outcome but being dismissed out of hand. Turns out I knew what I was talking about after all, huh? It’s a shame it took a miserable 3 year experiment for the board to realize it.

  8. Nikia says:

    I like the dress code with two exceptions -p.e. days should allow for school t-shirts and athletic shorts and the outerwear flexibility previously mentioned. Private schools are more flexible in this county then the public schools are in these areas. P.e. in jeans never made sense to me.

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