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Elementary students may soon be wearing uniforms

SARAH LOWERY
Staff Writer

Battleground Elementary School will have to wait a little longer to see if it will be allowed to move forward with a request to pilot a school-uniform program next year.
The idea, presented during a Lincoln County Board of Education committee meeting last week, was a topic of discussion again during the group’s regular monthly meeting Tuesday night, though a decision was ultimately postponed.
Principal Jim Heffner outlined his proposal and the reasoning behind it.
“We want to build a dynamic learning environment,” he said when addressing board members.
The plan, highlighted as an opportunity to heighten the sense of community within the school, would require students to wear navy polo tops or school T-shirts, sweatshirts and jerseys with khaki bottoms.
Girls would also be able to wear scoop- and V-neck shirts. Students would additionally wear solid-color belts and any type of shoe.
Heffner stressed that his school, which serves grades kindergarten through third, does not have an issue with inappropriate dress or bullying. Rather, he sees the uniform program as a proactive chance to build self-esteem and acceptance in students, while also leveling social classes and increasing attendance.
He additionally estimated that the cost to parents, based on Wal-Mart pricing, would be about $20 per outfit, recommending that they buy a minimum of three for roughly $60 total.
The idea, he added, is to keep it simple and look at any needed adjustments or improvements over the course of the school year.
Those students whose families can’t afford the uniform apparel would be supplied the clothing either through the school or charitable organizations in the community. If the program proves successful, Heffner noted that the school would also build a uniform closet to pass the items down to younger students in need.
His proposal, he said, has received “overwhelming support” from both teachers and parents.
Two of the school’s staff members were in attendance Tuesday night to speak in favor of the policy.
Krystle Bess, a second-grade teacher at Battleground Elementary, said she believes the uniforms will allow students to feel like they are part of a family and of something bigger, like a sports team.
The school’s guidance counselor, Linda Wolfe, echoed her sentiments.
“I think it’s worth a try,” she added.
Meanwhile, one parent present for the meeting described the proposed policy as “rigid” and stated that it would not solve any identified issues.
School Board members applauded Heffner for his efforts and took turns stating their beliefs on the requested pilot program, with Clayton Mullis and Ed Hatley saying they were against uniforms. Both noted, however, that they would support whatever decision the board makes moving forward.
“I’m personally against (uniforms) because I think they violate the right of expression,” Hatley said.
He additionally questioned the need to “over-regulate, if not broken.”
Board member Cathy Davis stated that for every con, there is a pro regarding the issue of school uniforms, and she and Tony Jenkins suggested that they give the school the opportunity to try them for a year to determine whether they are done again.
Board Chair Candy Burgin asked whether some flexibility could be allowed within the dress code, but she otherwise said she was in support of the program for one year, to then be assessed with data and reports.
The board also wrestled with whether the program could be optional, though it was decided that allowing parents to opt out — other than for religious purposes — would impact the program’s measures and result in skewed data.
Heffner, who previously and successfully implemented a similar initiative in another school district, noted that it would not succeed if the uniforms were a choice, and he said it would have to be “all in or not at all.”
Nonetheless, as requested by Bob Silver, the board members eventually decided to hold off on taking any action until an already-scheduled special-called meeting on June 27 in order to gather more input from involved parties.
Heffner, who noted that he kept getting bumped from meeting agendas from month to month since January, said waiting too long would make it difficult to get the program (should it be approved) up and running before the start of the school year in the fall. However, though he stressed that he had already reached out extensively to parents, he believed it would still not be too late to hold off for more feedback.
In the meantime, board members and school staff will be hearing from parents on the issue during forums at Battleground Elementary, located at 201 Jeb Seagle Drive in Lincolnton, at 6:30 p.m. on June 19 and 26.
School meal prices
Also during Tuesday’s meeting, the Board of Education received an update on average meal prices for the coming school year, with those costs set to increase by 10 cents for 2013-2014.
The price adjustments were approved last June to be in compliance with the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, which calls for districts whose average meal price is below $2.59 to increase the cost by 10 cents each year to support the program.
As such, lunch prices will rise to $2.35 for elementary schools and $2.45 for secondary schools.

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