Uniforms In Public School

Quality education is critical to the future of Americas children. However, we
cannot educate our children in schools where weapons, gang violence, and drugs,
threaten their safety. Many local school districts have made uniforms an
important part of an overall program to improve school safety and discipline.

Students resort to violence and theft simply to obtain designer clothes or name
brand shoes. This instills a fear among the students and teachers. It is no
secret that violent behavior has become a problem in public schools. For this
reason more and more public schools are entertaining the idea of uniforms to get
the minds of their students off of fashion and onto their education. Many
parents and students support the uniform issue because they feel it makes all
the students equal in the eyes of their peers and teachers. However, many
parents feel that just like installing metal detectors, uniforms are a
simplistic solution to a far greater problem. Some experts believe uniforms
promise to cut down crime and reduce violence, but only if we take away that
students individuality and freedom of expression. What does this promise?
Uniforms have been used in an effort to try an reduce crime, and at the same
time, remove peer pressure amongst students to try to “fit in” so they can
concentrate on their school work. President William Clinton agrees with this
saying “If uniforms can help deter school violence, promote discipline, and
foster a better learning environment, then we should show strong support to the
parents that try them”.(21) By mandating uniforms in public school, school
officials hope to see a reduction in crime and violence. According to
statistics, there are notable decreases in school violence and illegal offenses
after the enactment of a school uniform or standardized dress code policy.(Lewis)
Can uniforms really help in deterring violence and crime? Many parents and
teachers say yes. Supporters of uniforms say social and economic classes would
no longer be revealed by students clothing and the school system will have
more of a sense of community.(Nittel) Providing that a childs clothes does
make a difference in school violence, then uniforms are exactly what our
children need. Some parents feel uniforms will put the students emphasis on
schoolwork instead of dressing “cool”, and they will help to lower school
violence. Almost five years ago, the Long Beach School District made headlines
when it became the first school district in the country to make uniforms
mandatory for its elementary and middle school students. According to Phoenix
school officials in Long Beach, California, attendance and test scores improved,
incidents of students fighting decreased by 50%, student crimes decreased by 36%
and student suspensions decreased by 32% after they enacted a uniform
policy.(Will) Also other there were other steps to improve student behavior.

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Increasing the number of teachers patrolling the hallways during class changes,
were also taken by the district around the same time the uniform policy was
introduced. Dress codes were initiated in private schools as a standard. As
violence, competition between students, and distractions from the educational
system increased in public schools, administrators began to consider uniforms as
a solution to the problem. In Baltimore, Maryland, school administrators found a
44% drop in assault and battery charges, a 50% reduction in assault with a
deadly weapon, a 41% cut in occurrences of fighting and a 74% drop in sexual
offenses. They also found drug abuse to be down by 89% and vandalism had dropped
by 8%.(Stacey) These results and others caused many school districts to consider
uniforms for their own schools. Uniforms seem to give students a sense of
responsibility. It says that clothing is not that important. With this
realization the students began to forget about their clothes and refocused their
attention on education. Consequently their test scores and attitudes improved.

One teacher stated that ” I have never seen so many children change their
overall attitude in the classroom in just a matter of a few weeks.” Studies
show school uniforms are more successful in elementary schools, where students
are not so intent on their individuality.(Stover) And, experts recommend placing
students in uniforms at a young age so they become accustomed to a program. This
allows there to be no focus on material items and the childrens focus remains
on education from the start. Stover(1990) states that most supporters of
uniforms agree the program will not succeed unless school officials gain the
support of a large majority of parents from the beginning. President Bill
Clinton endorsed school uniforms in his 1996 State of the Union Address, and
this endorsement was followed by the distribution of a United States Department
of Education Manual on School Uniforms to the nations 16,000 school
districts. This manual is used as a guide to help schools incorporate uniform
policies and standardized dress codes into their extensive safe school programs.

The decision whether to adopt a uniform policy is made by states, local school
districts, and schools. For uniforms to be a success, as with all other school
programs, the parents and teachers must be involved. The following information
from Time Magazine, provides parents, teachers, and school leaders in whether to
adopt a school uniform policy. 1. Get parents involved from the beginning. 2.

Protect students religious expression. a. A school uniform policy must
accommodate students whose religious beliefs are burdened by a uniform policy.

3. Protect students other rights of expression. a. A uniform policy may not
prohibit students from wearing or displaying expressive items, as long as they
do not disrupt the rights of others. 4. Determine whether to have a voluntary or
mandatory uniform policy. 5. When a mandatory school uniform policy is adopted,
determine whether to have an “opt-out” provision. a. This means parents give
their children the consent to “opt out” of the school uniform requirements.

As a result of this manual, many local communities are deciding to adopt school
uniform policies. California, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Maryland,
New York, Tennessee, Utah and Virginia have enacted school uniform regulations
Many large public school systems — including Baltimore, Cincinnati, Dayton, Los
Angeles, Long Beach, Miami, Memphis, Milwaukee, Nashville, New Orleans, Phoenix,
Seattle, and St. Louis — have schools with either voluntary or mandatory
uniform policies, mostly in elementary and middle schools. Many educators say
that uniforms are more cost effective than regular clothing (LaPoint). The
average cost of uniforms is $65-75 per year for a set of three uniforms. They
can be purchased at discount stores, department stores or uniform suppliers.

Besides saving parents hundreds of dollars, school uniforms help to erase the
lines between social classes. The uniforms help to create an equality between
the have and the have-nots. However, there are a number of parents, teachers,
students, and agencies that strongly oppose the concept of standardized dress
codes and uniforms. Unnecessary disciplinary actions on students often become
counterproductive, creating rejection and sometimes rebellion against school
officials. For these and other reasons the American Civil Liberties Union have
sided with parents and students in the fight against uniforms in public schools.

The American Civil Liberties Union(ACLU) adamantly criticized Bill Clintons
school uniform “experiment” because “it like virtually every other uniform
policy in the country, applies only to elementary and middle school students,
and not to teenagers (Siegel)”. Their argument is that adolescence is a time
when the student wants to express his or her individuality and therefore
uniforms should not even be considered in the high school. According to Loren
Siegel, Director of the Public Education Department, and the American Civil
Liberties Union, ” implementing mandatory school uniforms is dangerous because
it gives the community a false sense of security. It is like putting a small
bandage on an enormous wound, instead of attempting to find ways to truly deal
with the bleeding.” By instilling a uniform policy, the ACLU feel that,
students will become agitated by the uniforms and find other ways of expressing
their individuality. The Supreme Court ruled in 1969 that clothing is a mode of
self-expression and as such, protected under the First Amendment. Therefore, say
experts, public schools must offer parents the right to decline to have their
children wear uniforms. Those students that do not wear them cannot be punished.

“For a public school uniform policy to be legal, it has to have an opt-out
provision (Siegel)”. This means that every child has the right to a public
school education, and that right must not be unconditional without compromise of
a school uniform policy of standardized dress code. Lack of group identification
is considered one of the significant reasons opponents of the school uniforms
and standardized dress codes use. Lewis(1996) argued that “uniforms prevent
students from finding membership with other students with similar identities.”
Critics complain that the uniforms will lessen childrens individualism and
creativity, which infringes on his or her rights. If given a choice, it is hard
to imagine that most or even many teenagers will opt to wear the uniforms. With
all the wonderful statistics about how uniforms are helping to improve violence
, is there another side? Yes, the American Civil Liberties Union of
Massachusetts reported that due to the new release of uniforms in Laurence High
school, attendance of students has dropped rapidly and 600 students have been
given detention and 200 suspended. This did exactly the opposite of what
uniforms are “suppose” to accomplish. If policy makers are serious about
finding solutions to the problem of school violence, maybe they should ask the
real experts: the students themselves. The ACLU recently conducted a series of
focus groups with high school students asking them what would help reduce
violence in school. Uniforms did not make the list. Their suggestion: 1. Since
school violence mimics that of society at large, schools should seriously
confront and discuss issues of racism and cultural conflict. 2. School entrances
should be secured. 3. More extracurricular activities and clubs should be
established. 4. Open-mike assemblies should be held to give students the
opportunity to express themselves. 5. Conflict resolution programs should be
taught. 6. Programs to help students find part-time jobs should be established.

7. “Safe corridor” programs should be supported to protect the safety of
students as they go to and from school. Political leaders seem to be adamantly
promoting uniforms. They are doing this while there are crumbling school
buildings, overcrowded classrooms and decreasing education funds. Attractive,
modern and safe school buildings, small class sizes, schools with well stocked
libraries, new computers and an assortment of elective courses like music,
drama, and art are the kinds of changes that would produce long lasting and
dramatic improvements in student achievement. But by doing this that would
require the government to get involved more than they want. So they next
possible source is uniforms. The ACLU argues that the government is trying to
find a “quick fix” to problems in the schools with the use of uniforms. They
say that the solutions of the problems of school violence, low morale and low
self-esteem, inappropriate appearance and more, should be found with the
students themselves (Siegel). Also, by adding increased police officers and
teachers patrolling the hallways, the students would be better behaved.

Adolescence is a time when young people want to express their uniqueness and
individuality in many different ways, the most influential form of expression
for them is fashion. “While younger children may be amenable to uniforms —
might even like them — teenagers are different.” (Siegel) Norman Isaacs, the
principal of Millikan Middle School in Sherman Oaks, California., has voiced
opposition to uniforms, saying that “students need to learn to make choices
and decisions based on internal values, rather than functioning with arbitrary
rules that set the limits for them.” Only then, he says, “can they learn to
think for themselves and develop self-discipline.” Others also argue that
student dress serves as a “barometer” of what is going on with the student
and can signal problems such as drugs, gang membership, or sexual abuse.

Uniforms would eliminate a warning system that lets teachers and administrators
identify and rescue students who need help. Lastly, a uniform policy penalizes
everyone instead of focusing on the small percentage of kids causing the
problems. Most reports on the uniform issue indicate that the elementary and
middle schools are showing great improvement, however, by not using them in the
high schools, where crime is worst, do uniforms help at all? There are no
statistics on how uniforms are doing in high school. This is because no one is
using them in public school. Townsend (1996, p?) explained that “the older
students get the less they will like the uniforms.” This is what kept the
principal of Long Beach High and the board of education from instituting
uniforms in the high school. “We feared it would be an invitation to open
defiance and civil liberties.” Its well-known that adolescence is a time
when young people want to express individuality. So the thought of wearing
uniforms in high school is one to be avoided. Seigel(1990, p ?) states that”of course as several political cartoonist have pungently observed, teens are
already in uniform — baggy pants, T-shirts and baseball caps worn backward.”
But these types of “uniforms” are clothes that the teens chose
themselves, and are not chosen for them. For these reason says Seigel, (1990,
p?) school administrators and teachers know that teenagers will rebel against
uniform policies; that is why they have been reluctant to put them in the high
school level. Required uniforms present a real dilemma. If the junior or senior
high school is a place that the students genuinely like–a place where they are
respected, where they are proud of their achievements and those of others, and
where they are consulted about the value of uniforms, they may well accept them.

(Howe II) In the earlier years, little children, who have not yet learned to
question adults, will almost certainly accept them. But students in secondary
schools without are likely to find ways to rebel against the enforcers of
required uniforms. Could uniforms work in the high school? According to Kate
Dunnagan of Broughtan High this is not true. According to Dunnagan “student
bodies are developing and changing constantly. Students wear what is flattering
and comfortable. It could be embarrassing to wear the same outfit as everyone
else and look bad in it. The shape or design of a standard uniform may not be
right for every individual.” It appears the reasons for not implementing
uniform policies in the high schools are simple. Teenagers will reject them. No
longer young enough to be persuaded, teenagers express themselves on how they
feel, and to them uniforms feel wrong. Adolescence is when they discover who
they really are, and what styles they like. They can not discover this by
looking like each other day in and day out. So what does this then say to the
elementary and jr. high students? That once they reach high school they wont
have to wear uniforms, and they can go back to their old ways? How does this
help? It doesnt. With this attitude crime and violence will only get worse.

High school will become a place of freedom of uniforms, instead of the learning
environment that uniforms are suppose to provide. Conformity helps students to
behave better, learn, and achieve more in and out of the classroom (Forbes,
Malcolm, p26). The self esteem of a child is increased when he or she learns and
feels equal to his peers. Little information was found regarding the thoughts
and views of students themselves. However, last year students at Briton Middle
school in New Jersey polled 5 senior classes, asking them how the felt about
uniforms. One student responded saying ” This is just another tactic to try
and remove more of our privileges.” (New Jersey Times, p23) In addition to
parents, school officials and governments authorities having input, so should
the students that will be wearing the uniforms. Problems at home, at school, at
church, and public places occur when attire worn by children become a
distraction and a disruption in their environment. When this occurs other
methods must be devised to get the students mind off of material things and
back to school work. These methods must begin with the parents. If parents
monitor what their children wear then they can solve many problems that may
occur. Are uniforms a good idea for your district? According to Dr. Hilfer,
strict dress codes are not for everybody ” Some schools thrive on
permissiveness and individuality, while others have to be more restrictive to
contain a restless student body”. Before making a uniform decision, he
suggests that schools carefully consider their unique populations; what kind of
message they want to send to their students; and whether or not the think their
children will go for it. Dr. Hilfer warns, “By instituting a uniform policy,
schools are taking away kids individuality — schools need to decide if that
sacrifice is really worth making. It is apparent that no single program or
action alone, will solve the problems facing public schools today. School
uniforms and standardized dress codes must be a small part of a larger program
to eliminate violence, competition, and distractions from education. Schools
must incorporate dress codes along with other programs to help remove violence,
and at the same time build self-esteem and school pride among the students and
teachers. Finally, it will take the cooperation of parents, students, and school
officials to make this program work. Ultimately, the goal for all us is to put
the minds of students off of clothes and back on education.

Polacheck, Karin, (1995, September 28). Uniforms Help Solve Many School
Problems. Long Beach Press-Telegram, (Online) 13 paragraphs. Available:
http://www.lbusd.k12.ca.us/uniform/uniformp.htm. Stacey, Julie, (1995, August
22). Today’s Debate: Dressing For School. USA Today (Online) 15 paragraphs.

Available: http://www.lbusd.k12.ca.us/uniform.uniformg.htm. Siegel, Loren. Point
of View: School Uniforms (Press release online). American Civil Liberties Union
web page, http://www.aclu.org/issues/student/pres.html U.S Department of
Education, (1996). Manual on School Uniforms. (Government document). U.S. House
of Representatives. House Bill Number 2532 (Online). Available: http://www.dos.state.fl.us/fgils/feds.html
(No date). Associated Press, (1995, September 9). New Dress Code, Rule Shake Up
Memphis School. The Chattanooga Times (Newspaper article), 18 paragraphs.

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