Frankfort Independent students who pride themselves on their unique style may have to abide by a strict dress code or wear uniforms next fall as part of an effort to curb dropouts.
Alan Spade, director of Wilkinson Street School and part-time assistant principal at Frankfort High School, discussed the idea with more than 30 students, parents and teachers Monday night.
Studies have shown a correlation between uniform dress codes and higher attendance and graduation rates, he said, though there’s no proof that attire alone did the trick.
“There are a lot of unique things about going to Frankfort High that makes it different than going to Franklin County or Western Hills,” he told the audience Monday.
“That’s where our discussion needs to be – is it going to have a negative impact on our unique place that we have, or is it going to lift us all up?”
The school district’s current dress code – last updated in 2000 – is relatively short. It bans belly-baring shirts, halter-tops and hats. Shorts must reach halfway down the thigh, and all students are required to wear shoes.
Schools within FIS can also implement their own dress codes, as long as they fit with the district’s guidelines.
Spade says administrators must find a way to let students express themselves but “still make sure we are meeting the educational needs of everybody.”
The plan to implement a new dress code stems from the district’s goal to eliminate dropouts – it’s one of 10 goals that have been in the works in some form since 2009.
Less than 70 percent of Frankfort High’s class of 2010 earned a diploma, according to data released by the Kentucky Department of Education last month.
The Board of Education formed committees last year to build action plans for each goal. One of those plans proposed a uniform style of dress, but Spade, a member of the committee, says that was put on hold until now.
The district will continue to host public forums for input once or twice a month until January, when Spade says he will make a recommendation to the Board of Education.
Any changes would be implemented in August 2012. Phasing in the new dress code is a possibility, Spade said.
Sophomore Sophie Deaton, 15, came to the meeting dressed in a black top and shorts, chandelier earrings, a curly ponytail and rainbow-hued sandals.
“I can’t dress like everybody else,” she said in the hallway after the discussion ended. “I just can’t do it.”
Her friend Hannah Davis, 15, said she walked into class Monday to find Sophie wearing bright red lipstick. That’s the way she – like dozens of other teenagers at FHS – expresses her personality.
“If I had to wake up knowing that I had to dress like everyone else every day, I would go to county (schools),” Hannah said.
“These are my best friends, and we would all go to county together and still have our senior year and dress the way we wanted to dress.”
As much as they love their small, tight-knit school, the half dozen girls that gathered after the meeting agreed that they would rather transfer to county schools than wear uniforms.
“Apparently they (school administrators) don’t understand us,” Hannah said.
“We thought that they did because of the freedom that they gave us, but now this has come up.”
Several of the girls said the issue of school uniforms has hit a nerve. Beth Edwards, 14, wrote a speech for Monday’s meeting, though she didn’t read it aloud.
“We don’t want to all be the same,” she said.
Seventh-grader Emmie Deaton, 12, said she would be OK with a stricter dress code to ensure teens are dressing appropriately – but not uniforms.
“You can say that Frankfort High is about getting good grades and promoting kids to go onto college, and that’s what every school is about,” she said.
“But if you get down deep into Frankfort High, it’s really about being yourself – that’s the special thing.”
Parents in the audience Monday also had concerns about the cost.
Uniforms may be cheaper for the parents of young children, they said, and one father of a 6-year-old daughter said it would simplify his morning routine.
Private schools that require uniforms often organize hand-me-down closets or buy items in bulk and resell them to students at a savings, Spade said.
But the parents of high schoolers said they would just end up buying double the clothes – uniforms for daytime, and their kids’ choices for evening and weekend events.
Spade says anyone may attend the public forums, whether they are in favor of the proposal or opposed to it. He urged participants Monday to focus on research instead of their own likes and dislikes.
“By being data driven, we look to research to say, ‘These are the negative impacts, and these are the positive impacts,’” he said.
Karen Hatter, former drama teacher at the high school, said the district shouldn’t rely on data alone in making the decision. She started the school’s annual Diversity Rally and parade, which celebrates the characteristics that make students unique.
She said FIS is a small enough school district to address dropouts on an individual level, asking each student why he or she quit school.
“While being driven by statistics is really good and keeps the emotion out of it, one of the beauties of Frankfort Independent Schools is the passion,” she said.
“That’s been a driving force for years.”
The Kentucky Center for School Safety says schools frequently cite school safety and health as reasons for adopting a dress code. Schools also say dress codes establish order in appearance and behavior, and promote a better learning environment, according to the group’s website.
The center describes four levels of dress code:
>Standard – includes basic guidelines, with no reference to color or length.
>Moderately restrictive – includes basic guidelines and stipulates how long pants, skirts and shirts must be.
>Restrictive – includes basic guidelines and stipulates clothing length and color.
>Uniform policy – prescribes length and color of clothing, and may require the use of selected vendors or school approved colors and logos.
The Associated Press reported last year that more public schools are asking students to wear uniforms.
Parents say the uniforms help them save money, and teachers believe they help promote unity, order and academic seriousness.
The percentage of public schools requiring uniforms has risen from 3 to 18 percent since 1996, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
Approximately 55 percent of public school principals reported that their school enforced a strict dress code, an increase from 47 percent in 1999-2000.