WATERLOO - Nearly two-thirds of Waterloo Community Schools' parents sampled in a scientific survey voiced at least some support for a proposed restricted dress code coming before the Board of Education tonight.
That included 72 percent of the 402 people interviewed. Of the total, 47 percent voiced strong support after hearing a summary of the proposed policy. Another 29 percent opposed the policy with 19 percent indicating strong opposition.
Survey participants most frequently cited reduced competition over clothing as the most positive aspect of a dress code and infringing on freedom of expression as the most negative aspect.
The University of Northern Iowa's Center for Social and Behavioral Research conducted the survey between May 12 and 18 for the school district. The district provided a sample of 6,581 unduplicated telephone numbers of parents or guardians of kindergarten through 12th-grade students to the center, and 1,017 were called.
"This was the scientific or statistically valid survey mechanism that the board commissioned," said district spokeswoman Sharon Miller. The 402 respondents "was the recommended sample size for the number of parents or families in our school district."
The board requested the survey following an April work session where the possibility of a restricted dress code was discussed. A presentation at the meeting had included results from a limited survey done during parent teacher conferences. Miller noted that the district paid the center approximately $6,000 to conduct the survey.
A second reading of the dress code policy is coming before the board tonight. If approved, it would put in place for the fall of 2011, with individual schools having the option to implement it next fall. The board meets at 6 p.m. in the Education Service Center, 1516 Washington St.
The policy, which restricts students to a limited range of clothing options, is similar to uniform policies already in place at Dr. Walter Cunningham School for Excellence and George Washington Carver Academy.
Miller noted that the board does not have to approve the policy tonight. "It is totally at their discretion whether to move ahead with approval or take some other action," she said.
The survey's executive summary said parents most frequently reported "reduced competitiveness about clothing" as "the most positive aspect of a restricted dress policy" in an uncued pair of questions. "The most negative aspect most frequently offered was infringing on students' freedom of expression."
Given a list of arguments for and against the policy, participants agreed "most strongly" that it "would reduce competitiveness about clothing, enhance a school's image, and reduce peer pressure." They disagreed "most strongly" that it "would improve attendance or harm the student's transition into adulthood when they will make their own clothing decisions and be judged on them."
The survey's summary and conclusion noted other primary advantages parents cited were that a dress code would help students stay focused on academics and prevent gang color affiliation. The other primary concern included the cost of complying with the policy. "Support was highest among middle income groups and those new to the District," said the conclusion.
All data was collected via assisted telephone interviewing technology. Interviewers were trained and supervised by the center's staff. Of those reached for the survey, 94 percent agreed to take it.