A Facebook group calling for the elimination of school uniforms in Mobile County Public Schools recently garnered attention after Baldwin County Public Schools approved a policy July 24 to allow high school students to wear open-toed shoes and blue jeans.

The group named “No More Uniforms in Mobile County Schools” calls for supporters to help do away with the MCPSS uniform policy and replace it with a dress code.

Thomasina Ayer, one of the group’s five administrators, enrolled three of her five children in MCPSS this year and she thinks uniforms have become more of a burden rather than a benefit.

According to Ayer, purchasing three sets of uniforms costs her about $600. Next school year, she said will have to buy uniforms for four children.

“They said it would ease financial burdens, end bullying and help with security. It has done just the opposite on everything,” she said.

However, MCPSS Superintendent Martha Peek still believes school uniforms provide for a safer environment and create less contention among students.

“When we have 90 school campuses, it certainly helps us in monitoring the school campus in making sure we don’t have intruders,” she said. “When they go on a field trip, when they have their school uniform on, it’s a good way to find our students.”

Peek also said uniforms impact behavior in positive ways, as there is less focus on current trends and more focus on learning. Uniforms also help students prepare for post-secondary success, she said.

Mobile County has had a uniform policy implemented for a number of years, and Peek said there has always been a commitment to maintaining the policy, though “anything is always possible.”

“The board and I have been made aware of the (Facebook) group, and I understand that the parents have said they want to present a petition before the board.” Peek said. “The board and I always listen and always consider what is being presented and would certainly do the same thing for a parent who obviously feels very strongly against this.”

According to Peek, anyone can speak before the school board during regular board meetings, but up until this time, she has not heard the board discuss anything about eliminating the school uniform policy.

“I think some of the action in Baldwin is sparking interest here in Mobile County,” she said.

At press time, Ayer said there were currently 4,544 members in the Facebook group and 2,500 signatures on the petition to eliminate school uniforms.

She, along with other members of the group, would like the MCPSS uniform policy to be withdrawn and replaced with a universal dress code:

For pants, “Blue Jeans or Khaki Pants. Pants, shorts, and skirts must sit at the waist and not be more than two inches above the knee. No baggy or sagging pants, shorts, or skirts allowed.”

For shirts, “T-shirts, polo shirts, or button downs. No spaghetti straps, or halter tops allowed. No midriff shirt, shirts must come to the waistline. No bras should be visible.”

For shoes, “They must be closed-toe. No flip-flops or any type of shoes with wheels. Middle and high school students must have tennis shoes during P.E. and any other outside activity. Shoes of all colors should be allowed.”

Further, the group advocated that “no baggy or loose-fitting clothing. Jackets, of any color, should be allowed in schools during winter times. Belts should not be required, especially in elementary schools.”

If the MCPSS School Board decides to implement any type of change to the existing uniform policy, Peek said it would be a decision that would happen later in the school year because schools open Aug. 7 and families have already purchased uniforms for the year. However, she said she does not anticipate any deviation from the current uniform policy, as Mobile County seems to be, in general, a “uniform type of county” in both public and private schools.

“In the near future, I don’t see there would be any change,” Peek said.

According to Balwin County Public Schools Communication Director Terry Wilhite, Baldwin County high school principals requested the change in their uniform policy.

“They believed extending dress code provisions to allow blue denim jeans and open-toe shoes would add to student comfort, reduce dress code infractions and make buying clothing more affordable for parents,” Wilhite said.

The process from when the idea was first proposed to when it became approved took about 60 days, Wilhite said.

“Board policy calls for a 30-day input period,” he said. “We had more than 7,500 complete an online survey. About 80 percent of parents were in favor of the change. We also heard from a large number of elementary and middle school parents who also want to see the change occur for those of those grade levels. The board will monitor the high school implementation and could at a later date propose the measure be extended to lower grades.”

All seven Baldwin County high school principals advocated for the uniform policy change.

Because many parents want uniforms eliminated completely, the Baldwin County School Board will closely monitor the extension to see how well students handle the change before taking any further action, Wilhite said.

“We have made a steady course of revisions over the past few years, each relaxing the dress code provisions a little more,” he said. “For example, a few years ago, principals were given the liberty to allow student’s to wear ‘spirit shirts’ – that is, club and organization T-shirts. That worked out really well.”

Wilhite said each individual school system must decide what works best in its own situation.

As far as uniform violations forcing students to lose time in the classroom, Wilhite believes it has created one of the most significant reasons to explore additional provisions to the dress code, as the main focus remains to educate students.

“For every argument against uniforms, there’s an argument for uniforms.” Wilhite said. “Uniforms will stir up debate quicker than just about any other subject.”