McCORMICK — Big changes are officially coming next year.
Students will report to McCormick County schools on July 26 — nearly a month earlier than their peers in Abbeville and Greenwood. Many of them will be dressed more formally than they are used to, wearing slacks and polo shirts or collared blouses in red, white or black, the district’s colors.
The district’s board of trustees voted Wednesday night to approve a uniform dress code and year-round school calendar. The proposals were first mentioned by interim Superintendent Betty Bagley in December, have been on the agenda of each board meeting this year and were the subject of four community meetings.
Bagley said the proposals would not fix all that ails McCormick schools, but were relatively low-cost and quick-to-implement changes that would move the district in the right direction.
The uniform dress code is not the same thing as forcing students to wear a uniform. The former offers students a limited range of styles and colors they can wear; the latter offers no choice.
The point of a uniform dress code is to change the district’s atmosphere, Bagley has said. At previous meetings, she distributed a flyer listing the policy’s pros — such as better behavior and fewer instances of bullying — and its cons — it limits students’ freedom of expression and, of course, many of them will probably loathe it.
In fact, two students gave Bagley a pair of petitions each signed by more than 100 other students who are against the policies.
“I haven’t had an opportunity to verify names and that sort of thing, but I want you to know that it is there,” Bagley told the trustees as she handed them the petitions.
A petition against the uniform dress code received 213 signatures, and another against the modified calendars received 117, said Destiny Bell, a ninth-grader at McCormick High School.
Destiny and her brother, Zion, said they began gathering signatures on Monday. Their father, Al Bell, a former trustee, spoke against the policies at the board’s meeting on March 11.
“When you’re going school shopping, you’re going life shopping,” Zion said. He and others he spoke to do not want to buy a wardrobe they will never wear outside of school, he added.
Nevertheless, the policy passed 6 to 1, with trustee Karen Beckner voting against.
Meanwhile, a year-round calendar would reduce teacher and student fatigue and “summer slide,” Bagley has said.
Trustees were presented with four options Wednesday night. After eliminating one, they approved the least dramatic among those that remained: a calendar in which nine weeks of instruction be followed by a two-week break, time that could be used either for vacation or remediation.
Trustees Beckner, James Moss, Verteema Chiles and Christine Lee voted for the nine-in, two-out option; Melody Wilt, Janie Martin and Heather McNally voted against it, preferring one of the six-in, two-out options that would have provided more breaks during the school year but a shorter summer.
A teacher’s assistant who attended the meeting said she wasn’t opposed to the calendar proposal. But she thought a uniform dress code was unnecessary, saying bullying is not as bad in the schools as some might believe.
Markishia Blair, a parent who has been to several board and community meetings where she voiced her skepticism over the proposals, said, “the decision has been made. Now it’s my hope that the board stands behind their choices and that they somehow make it an easier transition for the community.”