School Board Votes to End Muskegon Heights Uniform Dress Code

Andrew Trzaska | August 8, 2011

Uniforms are no more at Muskegon Heights Public Schools.

District board members voted 5-1 Monday evening to no longer require school uniforms starting with the 2011-2012 school year, only a few years after that policy was instated.

This comes at the end of long, multi-meeting debate about the pros, cons and conflicting opinions regarding enforcement of the rule.

The agenda item that led to the vote at Monday’s full board meeting was a resolution to extend the school’s uniform policy into the next school year.

Starting several meetings ago, a push from board vice president Ronald Jenkins to re-evaluate the policy included questions about how uniforms affected enrollment at the district, and even referenced previous surveys done by the school system.

Those on both sides of the issue found different interpretations in the data.

Opponents of the dress code argued that enforcement of the current policy was not strong enough, and it was actually driving away students from the district.

Arguments for uniforms stated that it allowed the students to focus more on academics and brought discipline to the district.

The resolution to continue the uniform dress code received “no” votes from Jenkins, board president Rev. Avery Burrell, secretary Franklin Brewer, plus trustees Kassandra Kitchen and Trinnell Scott.

Board Treasurer Ivory Morris was not present at Monday night’s meeting.

Trustee Nate Johnson, the lone dissenting vote on the issue, stated during Monday’s meeting that he understood the reason for the vote and the points of the debate, but said the board should not have pushed the issue in the few remaining weeks leading up to the new school year.

“The timing is absolutely wrong, because I believe parents have already purchased clothes for the next school year.”

Aside from considerations about purchasing clothes, Johnson went on to stress that it created unnecessary confusion and burdens on parents, teachers and staff.

Johnson also expressed an issue with the board changing their minds after only a few years.

“I see it as being confusing to the parents, and it is going to send a different message. We voted three years ago for them, two years ago for not on Fridays and half days, and now they’re gone.”

Burrell, who frequently made arguments for both sides during the multiple debates, fell on the side of ending the policy Monday.

“When uniforms were enacted, I think it was the right thing to do,” said Burrell.  “There was so much attention on dress and some kids were being ostracized.  We needed to focus on academics… I think now, it might be good to allow the uniforms to not be enforced to see how things grow.”

It should be noted that in a web survey on 1037thebeat.com, over 80% of people who took the poll on the matter indicated that the uniform dress code neither hurt current enrollment or recruitment of new students.

It remains unclear at this stage how and when all parents and staff will all be notified of this last-minute change.

Trustee Scott acknowledged there could be parent confusion, yet suggested that parents could be notified during the district’s open enrollment, by letter, or in other media.

Following Monday’s decision in Muskegon Heights, no public school districts in the county currently require uniforms, though many districts have varying dress codes.

Andrew Trzaska

103.7 “The Beat” – local government beat reporter and political analyst