PILOT PROGRAM -- School board would need to OK a plan that encourages, but doesn't require, K-4 students to wear similar clothing to class

By the time classes start up again next fall, students at Cornelius Elementary School could be looking a lot more alike.

A group of parents is spearheading a drive for a uniform dress code program at the K-4 school, the first one in its history, said Principal Perla Rodriguez.

The project is 'entirely parent-driven,' said Rodriguez, who has been at the school four years.

Under the proposal, which is due to come before the Forest Grove School Board sometime in April, students would be encouraged to wear clothing in similar colors and styles.

'It wouldn't be the type of thing where everyone would wear the exact same outfits,' said Rodriguez. 'It would be more like, 'these are the colors you can wear.''

Parent San Juana Aguilar, whose daughter Elisa is a kindergartener at Cornelius, supports the idea because she feels it teaches the children responsibility.

'It's like you or me,' she said. 'When we get up and get dressed in the morning, we know we're going to work.

'We'd like our children to be accountable for their lives at school - to treat school like it's their job.'

Aguilar, whose nephew is a fourth-grader at the school, was careful to say the proposal was not a response 'to any kind of trouble' there. A core group of eight parents brought the idea up to Rodriguez last fall and it snowballed from there, she said.

'We have a wonderful school community here, and this would pretty much build on that,' Aguilar said. 'We'd like our children to foster a strong sense of self-respect and respect for others, and we think a uniform dress code could help with that.'

Rodriguez said a parent survey, mailed home with report cards on March 14, received an overwhelmingly positive response. Out of 297 families representing 398 students at Cornelius, 'well over 200' were in favor of the plan, she said.

Rodriguez has already accompanied the parent group on a visit to Highland Park Elementary School in Salem, which has a uniform code. The school is 'similar to ours demographically,' she noted.

Superintendent Jack Musser has been 'in the loop all along' and has supported the parents' efforts to determine the necessary steps along the process, Rodriguez said.

If the plan wins approval from the school board, conversations about the uniforms themselves - what they would look like, where they would be purchased and who would pay for them - would come next.

School Board Chairwoman Susan Winterbourne said she was comfortable with the parents pursuing the plan but wondered how it might play out district-wide.

'What are the implications for the other K-4 schools, and beyond that?,' Winterbourne asked. 'As a school board we have to balance the issue by looking beyond a single school.

'I think it does set some precedent.'

Rodriguez said that if the pilot program flies during the 2007-08 school year, it would include an 'opt-out' plan for parents and students who don't wish to wear uniforms.

Student feedback at this point is 'all over the place,' she said, and families opposed to the plan would not be forced to comply.

'At this point, after seeing the survey results, I'm confident we're hearing the voice of the vast majority of our parents,' Rodriguez said. 'We still have a lot of legwork to do, so we'll see where it goes.'

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