As a Jean Ribault Middle School student, I told my mother I didn’t want to participate in a new school uniform policy. So I was opted out of wearing a white polo and navy slacks. As a parent of a first grader, my perspective has changed. This year, I’ve had more conversations with my son about his clothing attire than before. I’ve also heard the good and the bad about school uniforms. Ultimately, it may become a conversation every parent and guardian of an elementary and middle school student will have if a district-wide uniform policy is passed for the 2016-2017 school year.
Duval County Public Schools is currently considering a district-wide uniform policy for grades K-8. Currently, a number of local schools have uniform policies in place including Arlington Elementary, Joseph Stilwell Military Academy of Leadership and The Young Women’s Leadership Academy at Eugene J. Butler and the Young Men’s Leadership Academy of Eugene J. Butler.
The Florida Senate passed Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts and Postsecondary Comprehensive Transition Programs bill with a 39-0 vote. The bill includes state financial incentives for mandatory district-wide school uniform policies for grades K-8. What’s particularly interesting are language revisions that would allows the policy to become a law instead of a one-time budget allocation. Also, charter schools can apply separately from their districts for the incentives through the Students Attired for Safety (SAFE) Act. The purpose of SAFE is to provide a safe environment for students which fosters learning by and improves school safety and discipline.
If Governor Rick Scott signs the rules into law, they will go into effect on July 1. By September 1 of each year, district school superintendents and charter school governing boards have to certify that they have implemented a districtwide or schoolwide uniform policy.
The issue of school uniforms was first introduced to the Legislature by K-12 Committee Chairwoman Janet Adkins as a way to provide better security measures in schools. It was a one-time budget allocation to provide districts that adopted a uniform policy with $10 per student with cap of $10 million statewide on a first come, first served basis for school districts.
During the special session in June 2015, the bill passed in the House. Some lawmakers in the Senate believed $10 million could be spent differently — one priority was classroom technology. Nevertheless, the bill passed in the Senate as a voluntary adoption for districts that want to take advantage of the funding with the goal of creating safer school environments.
Public engagement is underway
Over the next few months, Duval County Public Schools will be collecting public input from parents, guardians and community members this month at School Advisory Council (SAC) meetings, PTA meetings and more. The district released a parent survey on school uniforms in December — it’s short and simple. You can provide your input here, if you haven’t done so already.
After public engagement is completed, the uniform policy will be reviewed by Duval County School Board members in February. The policy could go on to become an agenda item at the March or April board meeting if it’s considered for policy adoption.
Make your voice heard on important public education issues! The next School Board meeting takes place on February 2 at 6 p.m. and boundary changes among other topics.