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School uniforms draw hoorays and "no ways'

(ran ET edition of TAMPA & STATE)

For the most part, parents of Parrott Middle students appear pleased, while kids would rather dress their way. But after this school year, they won't have a choice.

Uniforms are coming to Parrott Middle School. Thursday, as parents and students got a taste of the colors and styles that lie in their future, it wasn't hard to find an opinion about them.

Parent Gary Nichols dislikes school uniforms. He thinks there will be enough time for them when kids go to work.

"Even if you go to work at McDonald's, you have to a wear a uniform," he said.

His wife, Cheryl, likes uniforms and the fact kids will be encouraged to wear them this year but must do so next year. She said kids face too much pressure to keep up with the styles, and uniforms could eliminate that stress.

Consequently, the Nichols children will reflect their parents' different viewpoints. Stacy, a seventh-grader at Parrott, will wear uniforms. Her brother, Josh, an eighth-grader, will stick to his own wardrobe.

Students and parents came to Parrott on Thursday to pick up class schedules for the coming school year. They also got a firsthand look at the uniforms being displayed _ and sold _ in the school's gymnasium by representatives of Beall's.

Vickie Rushing is a big fan of uniforms. "I think it gives the kids a sense of belonging, and they don't have to try to impress other kids with name-brand clothing," she said.

Her sons, both Parrott students, are split on the issue. Antonio Elder, a seventh-grader, likes the uniforms and says they should cut down on problems between kids. Marvin Rushing, an eighth-grader, remains loyal to his baggy pants and bright colors. "I'm against it," Marvin said, though he says the khaki shorts are not so bad.

In several families, opinions on the uniforms seemed to part along generational lines. Parents liked them because they look sharp and are relatively inexpensive; kids frowned upon them for their lack of flair or individuality.

Dallas Elkins said her son, Paul, and his seventh-grade classmates go crazy over such brands as Tommy Hilfiger, Nike and Adidas. She hopes uniforms will curb the label fixation. "This way, people are not going to judge you so much for what you are wearing," she said.

But Paul, just starting to appreciate collared shirts and khaki pants, isn't hip to this uniform thing.

"I don't like them because I think we should be able to wear our own clothes," he said.

That Mom will prevail in the Elkins household didn't seem to be in doubt. Paul left school toting a plastic bag filled with uniform items. And his mom intends to insist that he wear them.

Michael Maiorino, a sheriff's deputy based at Parrott, said uniforms should deter such problems as clothing thefts from locker rooms. If kids start wearing the same clothing, the enticement to steal shouldn't be as strong, he said.

Assistant principal Marcia Austin has said she hopes uniforms will reduce problems with shorts that are too short and pants that are too baggy. Fewer clothing distractions will help the kids focus on learning, she said.

At least four Hernando elementary schools _ Pine Grove, Brooksville, J.D. Floyd and Suncoast _ will also feature uniforms on an optional basis this year. Chocachatti Elementary, a new magnet school, is making uniforms mandatory.

Like Parrott, uniforms at those schools typically mean collared shirts of various solid colors and bottoms _ pants, shorts, skirts or skirt/short hybrids called skorts _ that are khaki or navy. For girls, jumpers are often a part of the mix.

At Parrott, pants on sale Thursday ranged from $12.99 to $19.99; shorts, $9.99 to $14.99; and shirts were $14.99. In most cases, parents said the prices were as good as, if not better than, anything else they could buy for their kids to wear to school.

Lori Allen, whose daughter Kacie is a seventh-grader at Parrott, has heard all the arguments for uniforms. And she will accept them, albeit unwillingly. Kacie will wait until next year to wear a uniform _ when they are required.

"The way they dress is a right that's been taken away," Allen said. "I think it's a form of self-expression."

Kacie just doesn't like the uniforms. "It's not what I wear," she said.

As for ending the clothing competition, Kacie said most kids pay little attention to what their classmates wear _ until their teacher calls attention to a student whose shorts appear too short.

Her mom is concerned that some low-income families might be able to afford only a couple of sets of uniforms, whereas they could buy many pieces of clothing from thrift stores. She fears that when uniforms get dirty _ and parents can't get them washed _ uniforms may actually increase absenteeism rather than reduce it, as school officials hope.