The Martin County Board of Education held their first meeting inside the newly refurbished MCS Innovation Campus Nov. 1. Monthly meetings will henceforth be held on the campus.

During the longer than usual meeting (three and half hours), several students and staff members were honored. Over half the meeting was spent in closed session and concerned personnel issues.

The MCS uniform policy was taken to task by those who had signed up for making public comments.

The board heard from a teacher, a student and a parent all speaking against the policy.

Later in the meeting, Superintendent David Fonseca led a discussion among board members concerning school uniforms, which was on the agenda as an information item.

Sidney McCall, the new World History teacher at Riverside High School, said she came from a school with over 1,500 students in Fayetteville, which never had a uniform policy.

“I am looking from the outside in. I don’t understand why my students can’t wear jeans without holes. I am asking on behalf of my students,” she said.

“I have students missing over half my class because of dress code — because some of them can’t afford uniforms,” McCall continued.

“I understand we are trying to set up a [uniform donation] closet, but it’s hard when you can’t get the stuff to set up a closet. We are having trouble getting just [basics],” she said.

McCall said when students come to her class wearing a hoodie (not allowed), she must send students out of her class to put the hoodie in their lockers.

“They are missing precious class time just because they wear a hoodie,” she stated.

On rainy days, students who must walk between buildings get wet.

“They come back to class and freeze,” she added.

Even on days when it is not raining, “some of our classrooms are freezing cold,” McCall added. “These kids aren’t allowed to wear the hoodie [which] is keeping them warm – [which] is what their parents can afford,” she said.

Also, some students use clothing as a form of self-expression, McCall said.

“I have students…who want to wear something fun — to show, ‘Hey, I’m in a happy mood today, ’or, ‘I’m not really in the best mood today,’” she added.

“Why can’t they wear their favorite band T-shirt? Why can’t they wear a hoodie? They have clothes that are appropriate — but are not allowed to wear them to school,” she added.

McCall had her class conduct an exercise where they created a student-based dress code.

“I wanted to show them they need to have a say in what they wear…what they work for. They are working for their grades. They are working hard to do the best that they can…why can’t they be comfortable?” she asked.

“I know for me, if you put a collared shirt around me — I’m going to feel like someone is squeezing my neck,” she continued.

She looked around the crowded room.

“I see some of my students out there. I am here to support and back them up,” she said.

Amaya Moore, a student at Riverside, stated, “We don’t want a dress code. I feel like it is unnecessary. We can’t be ourselves if we are dressed like everyone else,” she said. “I like to express myself through my clothes.”

A senior, Moore added, “I feel like we can’t make a decision for ourselves.”

She conducted an informal petition at school and received over 100 signatures against the uniform policy.

Chairwoman Barbara Council requested the petition be left with the board.

The mother of a student also spoke.

“I am a parent of a kid who doesn’t care too much for a uniform. I was in school when we didn’t have uniforms,” she said.

“I feel at least on Fridays they could have a dress down day — if you are not going to get rid of uniforms. At least let them wear something comfortable on Fridays — even if they pay a dollar. That dollar could go to getting them something at school,” she said.

She also addressed MCS’s policies against wearing hoodies and dyeing hair color.

“I don’t see why they can’t wear hoodies if the hoodie is just plain — like they say — it is cold.

“I also don’t see why the color of kids’ hair is a problem. If someone wants to dye their hair pink, I don’t see how it can distract someone from learning,” she added.

“I feel like you all take away from kids’ identities,” she said. “[Hair color] is not [a good] reason for a child to not be able to participate in school or participate in extracurricular activities.”

Later, Fonseca asked board members for their comments about uniform policies.

Gene Scott said, “Honestly, I do think we are taking a little something away from the students [with uniforms].”

“There is nobody on this board that ever wore a school uniform in school – never,” he continued. “I can understand why some kid wants their own identity, so to speak. We can still have a dress code – like no foul language on a shirt,”

Scott added. “I think it is about time to relax this [policy]. You see more and more schools in the area is going away from [uniforms]. I’d really like to see something done about it.”

Van Heath said, “I am very much in agreement with Mr. Scott. I think the time of uniforms is over. We have a rule that students can’t put bright colors in hair their hair, yet I go to I go to meetings at the State School Board Association – and there is a lady – in our district — with electric blue hair…70 years old. If it is OK for her, why is it not OK for some of our children if that’s what they want to do?” he asked. “I don’t understand it…I can’t image going home and coloring my hair orange – but if that is what somebody wants to do, it’s not hurting anybody.”

Heath added, “I would like to see a reasonable dress code, one that is reasonably enforced.”

Keisha Manson, who attended the meeting virtually, said she would like to see the kids come up with a dress code that is a happy median for everyone.

Vice Chair Rene Purvis questioned why the school district went to school uniforms in the first place.

“One thing is paramount — we can have whatever we want — but it has to be enforced. That is the issue. Because we have things on the books we are not enforcing,” she said.

Gail Cargile said the things that were issues when the uniform policy was formed are not the same issues with today’s students.

“It is a different world,” she added.

Dr. Fonseca told the board he would have a revised uniform policy for the board’s review at the Dec. 1 meeting, repeating Heath’s quote, “a policy that is reasonable, that can be reasonably enforced,” he said.

Contact Jim Green at jgreen@ncweeklies.com.