I wanted to thank The Dispatch for its coverage of the current Starkville School District uniform debate. It has turned out to be a sensitive issue in the community. I can honestly say, it has made me and many other parents realize we need to be paying better attention to what is happening in our own backyard — and this means attention to bigger issues than uniforms. I thought I was doing enough by helping out in my son”s class when needed, participating in fundraisers, etc., but I was wrong, and I am embarrassed by my lack of involvement.
When the discussion first began with the spring 2009 survey, I was for a uniform policy. Since then, however, my mind has changed due to research into the issue of uniforms that I have done and the way the issue has been handled. My children”s clothes are from Wal-Mart, so it is not a brand issue for me.
First and foremost is my concern that this issue is taking valuable time and attention away from really important issues such as budget cuts, drop-out rates and failing test scores. Another concern is the way the issue has been addressed by the school board itself. I am grateful to the school board for being willing and able to devote their considerable time and energy to trying to improve our schools. I would like to see more transparency in their efforts and a willingness to bring issues such as these to the public for the exchange of ideas and input. I think the open forum taking place Thursday, Feb. 11 at 6 is a good (albeit overdue) start, as long as everyone attends with the intention of listening to each other.
I think it is important to note, however, that two board members voted against the open forum. I think it is also important to note that the SSD has only one elected member on the school board. The rest are appointed. This is unusual in a democratic republic like the United States.
As for the uniform debate itself, there are many anecdotal articles extolling their virtues from decreasing violence to improving academic preparedness. These claims have been largely disproven by researchers. For problems of identification on campus and on school trips, there are less extreme and more cost-effective solutions. Funding is also a worry, both for the district and the parents. At this time of severe budget cuts ($204.6 million for education in Miss. so far this year), how does the school district propose to pay for the uniforms of the nearly 70 percent of kids who qualify for reduced or free lunches?
Given these points, my question is why are we doing this now? Why are we spending time, energy and money on this? Can”t we direct our focus towards something more valuable to our children, such as the quality of their education? We are failing our children and, as a result, we are failing Mississippi. Let”s forget about uniforms and take all this energy and all these people and point them toward the problems SSD faces; open a dialogue between the school board and the public, find some solutions and do what we need to do to ensure quality education. We owe our children at least this much.
Jennifer K. Burgess, Starkville
The Dispatch Editorial Board is made up of publisher Peter Imes, columnist Slim Smith, managing editor Zack Plair and senior newsroom staff.