Local parents spoke out against the new uniform policy at an Effingham County Board of Education meeting Thursday.
“We are disappointed that it has been approved,” Elizabeth Woods said. “Almost every aspect of our children’s lives are controlled by either their parents or the schools. We tell them when they can talk, when to play, how to play, where to play, when to eat, when to go to bed, when to take their bath, and now we are telling them what they can wear.
“I feel the decision has intruded on our lives,” she said. “It has intruded on our lives as parents and the role we play in our children’s lives, in the lives of our children. Uniforms do not belong in the public schools. I understand that you as a school board are trying to improve our children’s education, excuse my emotions, however are school uniforms going to do this — I don’t believe so.”
BOE Chairwoman Vera Jones said the board was not going to re-vote on the issue.
“We created that policy and as of this moment, we are not going to take it up for another vote and rescind that tonight,” she said. “We will take what you said under advisement.
“I would never tell anyone that we would not listen to what you have to say. Everything we do is a work in progress.”
Woods said she thought there were less intrusive ways to improve the schools, such as enforcing already strong dress codes and teaching teachers to invite parent involvement.
“We believe parent involvement will work better than school uniforms in improving our children’s lives,” she said.
Kevin Woods said some points had not been adequately addressed by the board.
“Some things that made us upset about the whole issue first and foremost is communication,” he said. “We felt this had been pushed through without encouraging the community go get involved in it, and actually put their honest opinions out there. The Web site you have is a wonderful tool, but we feel it is underutilized. The board of education minutes are not posted up to date. If you use that and keep that up to date it would be a better tool for the community to be more informed.
“I’m really disappointed that only 52 percent of the people responded. I looked at the total numbers, and I see that only 65 percent of the people that even responded are for the uniform policy.”
Kevin Woods said he thought the surveys would have been more accurate if they had been mailed or attached to grade cards that parents are required to sign.
“I did bring up as a point of rule that only 65 percent were for it, and aren’t you supposed to have 70 percent to move forward with it?” he said.
In the Oct. 10 issue of the Herald it was reported that “(Superintendent Randy Shearouse) told the board it has been recommended before a decision is made to have 70 percent of parents respond, and of those who respond a minimum of 80 percent who support the change.”
Shearouse told those in attendance the board wanted to be open with the process, and wanted to work with the community. He said the date for the vote was set a month in advance.
“We are looking at a way to post the agenda online,” he said. “The minutes are not up to date. Sometimes, it takes a month to approve the minutes. We could do a better job of that, without a doubt.”
Jones said it was not a board member who came up with the idea of instating a uniform policy. She said the board began looking at the issue after parents suggested requiring uniforms.
“I am very disappointed also because I am only getting the negative input after the rule was made,” she said. “It’s not us against you. We are you. We love these kids in Effingham County as much as you do, and they’re our kids.
“We care about your input. I don’t have to agree with your opinion to hear it,” Jones said. “We are going to do what we feel is in the best interest of the students when it is all said and done, and whatever policy we come up with, and I don’t know that there is a perfect policy.”
Tara Jeffers said if she wasn’t on a school council, she wouldn’t have known about the issue at all.
“The first survey that we got in October, and that was the first time we ever heard about it,” she said, “and here we are six months later, and it’s been done, approved and it’s over with and nobody has anything to say about it.”
Jeffers said after that she thought uniforms were a dead issue, but later was told it was now a board decision.
“So now the board has made the decision to move forward, and we are all expected to go along with it and put our kids in uniforms if we what them to go to school,” she said.
Jeffers also doesn’t believe a uniform policy will solve everything.
“I think the big issue here is a lack of parenting,” she said, “and I don’t think the board does not belong in parenting, and I don’t think that the school should have to pick up slack for slack parents. I think there’s a lot to be said for the parents that are there every day, and I don’t think that we’ve been heard.”
Charlene Czajaowski, another parent, addressed concerns that she did not know about the school council, and found it difficult to get information on the school board.
“We moved here just shy of two years ago,” she said. “We looked at Savannah first and I said, ‘no, I don’t like their schools,’ and then we looked at Effingham I liked the schools. That was our main reason for buying where we purchased. I have no idea who our council representation is. I’ve never even heard of it at Marlow.”
Czajaowski said she was never told at her children’s school that the board was discussing this issue. She asked the board to make the issue the single topic in a public forum and not part of a regular meeting.
“Make it a separate item, not number six on a list,” she said.
Board member James Dasher addressed the concerns of the responsibility of the board to get information to the public.
“Our responsibility is to publish everything in our legal organ, which is the Effingham Herald. It’s the residents responsibility to go to our legal organ,” Dasher said.
Board member Troy Alford told the parents he moved to the county in 1987 for the same reasons many of them chose to move here. He has two children in college and two children at South Effingham Middle School.
Alford said there were many opportunities for the public to make their voices heard, and he expected to see a crowd at the meeting where the policy was approved.
“I challenge you to turn this into a positive,” he said.
Stephanie Ertzberger said she has lived in Effingham her whole life and has two children in the school system, and one who will begin next year.
“The clothes have always been the same,” she said. “If you teach your children, it doesn’t matter what you wear, it’s the person that you are.”
She said there should be another survey before the policy is implemented, and said she didn’t think putting the issue in the paper was enough.
One community member came to show support for the board’s decision.
“I came here to congratulate ya’ll,” Darlene Pierce said. “My first and foremost thing when I read it in the paper because I do read every paper. I knew what was going on with the dress code, or uniform I thought what a great idea for safety.
“As a business person I go into the high school some times, and I was on the school council and I see some of these kids and the way they dress for school and I wonder where there parents are,” Pierce said. “I don’t know how the teachers do it because they’re seeing way too much of these students, if you know what I mean.”