The uniform policy at Toano Middle School has been in place for nearly two decades, but after discussions this past year it appears students may not have to wear polos and khakis much longer.
During the Williamsburg-James City County School Board meeting on Tuesday, Toano Middle School Principal Tracey Jones presented information from the division’s focus group that has been analyzing the use of uniforms at the school over the past year.
When the uniform program first started in 2000-2001, there were not any parents or students who chose to opt out of the uniform. Since then, Jones said there is a clear shift in feelings toward the program that make its necessity up for review.
Related story: After nearly 20 years, Toano Middle School may drop uniforms
Various members of the school board and Jones agreed they liked the uniform practice because it gave the students a sense of professionalism and created an overall cohesive environment. However, after the results of the focus group, the functionality of the program came into question.
The focus group started meeting in the fall of 2018 after the school’s opt-out policy had to be changed. Previous to the 2017-2018 school year, students can opt-out of the uniform policy by attending another middle school within the district. But after increased enrollment, this no longer became a feasible option.
Instead, the students were allowed to opt out of the uniform policy on an individual basis while remaining at the school. As a result, the number of students choosing to opt out of the program nearly doubled, going from 29 percent in the first year of the new policy to 49 percent in the second year.
While that gave students more freedom of choice in their school wear, it became difficult for teachers and administrators to keep track of which students had opted out and which had not.
However, the district requires there to be an opt out policy available for students. Attorneys for the district recommended against any removal of the policy because it could leave the division open for lawsuits for violating rights as a public school.
“The recommendation from school administration is that the policy remain intact,” said Eileen Cox, spokeswoman for the district. “Including an ‘opt-out’ for families who do not wish for their children to wear a uniform.”
The board will make a decision on the policy at the next school board meeting on May 21.
But how Toano Middle School chooses to proceed with their uniform program is still up for discussion.
To better assess the situation, the division sent out a survey to parents, students and staff asking whether students should continue wearing uniforms. The students disagreed — the most at 75 percent, followed by parents at 21 percent and then the staff at 12 percent.
After looking at those results, the focus group then divided into smaller groups and discussed three questions presented by administration:
- Why are uniforms important to you and what is important about them?
- What are some of the positive aspects of the uniforms you can identify?
- What are some problems you see with school uniforms?
There were similarities in their responses, the most significant of which being that the inconsistencies of which student is wearing the uniforms and enforcing that policy causes issues.
Toano Middle School is the only middle school in the district with a uniform policy. However, James River Elementary school also has a similar uniform policy but with only 10 students choosing to opt out of the uniform program.
With the diversity of opinion and the need to maintain an opt-out alternative, members of the school board said the policy needed to be reviewed further.
“After considerable research and discussion, the focus groups recommended that if the ability for families to ‘opt-put’ remains in the division-wide policy, that Toano Middle School discontinue the use of school uniforms beginning in September 2019,” Cox said.