The Parent-Teacher Organization and school council at Jennie Rogers Elementary School held an open forum Thursday night to allow parents to voice questions and concerns about possible dress code changes.
“We wanted to make some adjustments anyway and this is a great time to hear what people think about the dress code,” Principal Gina Bernard said, explaining that the council had been approached earlier in the year about the need to address the out-of-date dress code. Attempts had been made to include parents and staff in early discussions using surveys.
Opinions from those in attendance were mixed, especially as the conversation focused largely on the possibility of going to school uniforms, which was never the initial intention of the council or the PTO, according to Bernard.
Parents brought up various topics, veering into discussions regarding whether or not uniforms would reduce bullying or detract from a student’s individuality.
With the possibility of uniforms being discussed, there was research to show both sides, “depending on how you searched,” according to Bernard. While none of of the data found by members of the PTO was from Kentucky, they said they had found some in neighboring states, specifically Ohio, that showed it could decrease bullying.
Susan Cloud, mother of a Jennie Rogers student, said she grew up in a Catholic school setting and that, in her opinion, bullying based on a student’s socio-economic status wouldn’t go away simply because all the students were dressed the same. Part of that, she said, was due to the opinion the child had of themselves and their classmates to begin with.
“You can’t fix that with clothes,” Cloud said. “That’s an attitude that people present within themselves.” She also added that even in her school, where everyone dressed the same, there were those who got picked on. “Uniforms won’t eliminate that.”
Another parent, Michael Spears, who also works in the mental health field, echoed those sentiments, explaining that a person’s state of mind and the culture surrounding them impact how they are treated and how they carry themselves.
“This isn’t going to change the attitude or culture,” Spears said.
Despite agreeing on that point, the two leaned to different sides in the uniform question, with Cloud saying even though she was on the fence, she could easily see the upside to going to uniforms. However, she said there were other ways to focus the school, besides on what students wear.
Spears, on the other hand, said part of the decision behind sending his son to Jennie Rogers was that it allowed him to develop his own personality.
For those who did find the idea of uniforms to be a positive one, they cited reasons of efficiency, as it would reduce morning fights about what to wear; cost, because children would be more easily satisfied with a cheaper clothing line; and continuity, as it could help children bridge the gaps of their differences by not noticing clothes so much.
“It may be as simple as it makes mornings easier,” said Chris Verhoven, a teacher at Jennie Rogers, with children who attend Toliver Elementary, which does have a uniform policy. “I do not think it solves bullying or socio-economic problems.”
Many voiced concerns with uniforms, including the concept of decreased individuality, because children wouldn’t be allowed to express themselves in what they wear; and cost, as some parents felt they would have to purchase twice the items to be able to clothe their children after school and on the weekends.
Michelle Bischoff, the PTO co-president, explained that they had organizations who had approached the school about helping get clothing for students.
“A clothes bank will be easier to supply if there is a uniformed policy,” she said, noting it would help those in need.
Possibly bringing uniforms to Jennie Rogers Elementary turned out to be a “bigger issue than I ever thought about when we started,” Bernard said. However, she was pleased with the turnout, stressing that the more people who came together to talk about such things meant that the school was going to get a “greater policy.”
Bernard said no decisions have been made and that going with uniforms is not the only option the council has.
Renee Lanigan, a teacher, parent and member of the council, said the point of the meeting was to help the council consider the options of modifying the existing code or going with something completely new.
“As a council, we wanted to hear from parents and understand their perspective,” Lanigan said, explaining that the council’s role is to “represent the voices of the students, parents, and teachers. “After tonight’s meeting, hopefully we will have a more informed decision.”