Waterloo board OKs school dress code in divided vote

2010-05-24T22:20:00Z Waterloo board OKs school dress code in divided voteBy ANDREW WIND, andrew.wind@wcfcourier.com Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier

WATERLOO - A standardized dress code will be implemented across Waterloo Community Schools in the fall of 2011.

The Board of Education Monday approved the new policy 4-2 after hearing almost 1-1/2 hours of comments mostly in opposition to the proposal and debating it for another hour. Board members Lyle Schmitt and Sue Flynn voted against the policy, while Barb Opheim was absent. The policy is set to begin in the fall of 2011.

A few revisions to the policy as originally proposed were included in what was presented to the board, including changing the name of the policy from a "restricted" to a "standardized" dress code. The revision eliminated a requirement that shirts be one of four solid colors and will now allow any solid colors. It also allows limited exceptions to the requirements.

Board members favoring the policy cited a survey commissioned by the district that showed 72 percent of parents voicing at least some support for the policy, with 47 percent voicing strong support. The survey was conducted by UNI's Center for Social and Behavioral Research.

"The support that came from parents was very important in coming to my decision," said board member Mike Young. He added that the support shown in the survey almost raised passage to the level of "mandate" for the board.

The survey included responses from 402 current parents or guardians, which is considered a statistically valid sample for the district's size. The district provided 6,581 unduplicated phone numbers to the center. A total of 1,017 calls were made between May 12 and 18 to conduct the survey.

But Schmitt contended if the UNI survey results were looked at in conjunction with nonscientific online polls conducted by the district and The Courier, "it's only a slight majority" of participants that favor the standardized dress code.

"It's pretty clear to me that the majority of the district is saying some change is required," he said, based on the surveys. But his reading of the research on school uniforms is that they have little to no impact on academic achievement, behavior problems and other factors.

As a result, he was willing to support only "the least intrusive action," such as "deleting the list of acceptable clothing." The clothing list accounts for almost all of the policy.

Flynn voted against the policy because of a provision that gives schools the option to start it this August. "I'm not going to support the motion if it could start this fall," she explained. An effort to amend the motion after it was passed to take out the option failed 2-4, with Flynn and Schmitt voting for it.

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