By Karen Hall
Marshall County school board policy committee members got more information on standardized school attire at their meeting last week.
Visitors from Maury County were enthusiastic about the difference the policy made in their schools.
"It makes a huge difference in the atmosphere of our building," said Beverly Miller, who is starting her second year as principal of Mt. Pleasant High School. "I wouldn't go backwards," she said. "I wouldn't go back to no dress code. It's a huge cultural difference in our building."
Mary Carter, Maury County supervisor of attendance and discipline, agreed with Miller, stating, "It really cut our discipline (problems) in half."
Before taking the job in Mt. Pleasant, Miller was supervisor of secondary instruction here, so she is very familiar with Marshall County schools and students.
Board members had plenty of opportunities to ask questions.
"We have a dress code," Kristen Gold said. "We just don't have standardized attire. Why is it (the dress code) so difficult to enforce, and why does standardized attire make it easier?"
Simplicity is why.
"We wanted to simplify it so they could focus on instruction," said Rick Robinson, supervisor of secondary instruction. "The more variations there are, the more interpretations there are. We wanted to simplify."
Marshall School Board member Donnie Moses agreed.
"Simpler is easier to control," Moses said.
Carter gave the board tips on how to implement a standardized school attire policy.
"Consistency is the main thing," she said. "Everybody has to be on board."
Robinson added, "We have 20 schools and 20 principals. It's difficult to get agreement on anything, but we try to do the best we can to have a consistently enforced policy."
Carter and Robinson explained that Maury County held a series of public meetings to get input from parents and students, and Maury County leaders spent a total of six to eight months working on the policy.
"Give yourself plenty of time to investigate," Robinson counseled. "Don't assume anything. Once you set a code, don't change it: give it some time for the public to get used to it.
"Give it a lot of thought," Robinson urged.
Expanding on the point, Carter said, "We decided not to change it for three years."
Some parents were totally against it, but Maury County schools' attendance and discipline supervisor said "Some came around to it in the second year," when they found it meant they had to buy fewer clothes and discipline was better.
Miller has "not had a parent complain," she said.
Maury County's basic colors for shirts are navy blue and white, and each school may choose up to four additional solid colors for shirts. Standardized school attire rules apply all the way from kindergarten to 12th grade. Miller admitted there had been a few issues with children moving from one elementary school to another and needing shirts of a different color, but said this was not a big problem.
Robinson said that at first Maury County had considered school uniforms, but they learned that if uniforms were required, the district would have to buy them for all students on free and reduced lunch. With standardized school attire, the required styles and colors can be purchased from many retailers, at a range of prices that fit most family budgets. The required clothes can also be found secondhand.