Uniform concept approved; details next

Uniform concept approved; details next

DANVILLE — All Danville schools students will wear some type of uniform starting in August.

School board members on Wednesday threw their support behind the concept of "a uniform standard of dress," following 90 minutes of discussion and comments from students, parents and community members.

Now, administrators will work on developing a policy that will lay out what the uniform will look like, its implementation and sanctions for noncompliance, among other things.

Board members said the outfit and its cost, whether it will vary from school to school, and other details are still up for discussion. They also said the community would have a chance offer suggestions before the proposed policy is approved this spring.

Most of the about dozen or so community members who spoke Wednesday, including several Danville High School students, fiercely opposed a uniform or anything more restrictive than the current dress code.

"Nobody wants it," said Becca Lewis, a junior. "We dress appropriately and present ourselves nicely. We don't feel we should be punished because of a few students who don't follow the dress code."

"I have a 4.0 grade point average, and my goal is to be valedictorian along with some of my other classmates," junior Alexis Simmons said, adding she also served as vocal captain of the Delegation show choir and is involved in other activities. "I never wore a uniform.

"I don't need school to tell me how to dress to be successful," Simmons continued. "I have a job already. ... And I'm learning that by going out into the workplace."

Eleven-year-old Braden Walters, the youngest to address the board, raised another concern — safety.

"If I'm having problems in school (with another student), how am I going to be able to describe somebody?" asked Braden, a sixth grader at North Ridge Middle School. He pointed out that all students will be dressed alike.

Braden's parents, Patty and Mike Walters, were among those who said that uniforms would place a financial burden on families in a district where 78 percent of students qualify for free or reduced lunches. They said the district already has a strict dress code in place, and officials need to do a better job of enforcing it.

But board member Steve Bragorgos said he believes uniforms would be less expensive than many of the name-brand clothes kids wear. He also disagreed that the current dress code is working and that teachers spend too much time trying to enforce it.

"With a uniform policy you're either in it or you're not," said Bragorgos, an Army veteran, who's now a colonel with the Illinois National Guard. His children also wore uniforms when they attended the old St. Paul's Catholic school. "And if you're not, you'll go home."

While many spoke out against a uniform dress code at the meeting, board member Darlene Halloran said she received many calls and emails from people who support it.

"It isn't that we're not getting both sides," said Halloran, who said she would vote in favor of the concept because "it is the right thing to do." While there's no direct correlation to improving academic achievement, she said research shows uniforms do improve school climate.

"Hopefully, with an improved climate and more of a focus on education, (improved achievement) will come," said Halloran, a retired Danville High guidance counselor, who's now the educational liaison at Mervis Industries.

Board member Randall Ashton cast the sole dissenting vote. While Ashton said he loves uniforms and helped create the policy at Northeast Elementary Magnet School — the only school in the district to currently have a uniform — 17 years ago, he called voting a week after an initial discussion at a study session "a little hasty." He also doesn't believe they should be required of all students.

Board President Bill Dobbles said he, too, was surprised to be voting on the matter this early; most members thought they would be doing so even in February. But, he said, it lets parents know the board's direction so that they can prepare.

"I strongly believe we can develop a policy that students at Danville High School can support," he told the students in the audience.

He went on to say that requiring that students be "dressed to succeed" can have a positive effect: "I don't see any of that as a punishment."

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