When a proposed school uniform requirement was first raised in our school district, I admit some of my administrative colleagues had serious reservations. They were concerned that enforcing uniform wear by students would be burdensome and time-consuming and would not necessarily lead to significant changes in the school climate.

I'm pleased to say our initial doubts have been allayed by several documented improvements that have resulted largely from our 3-year-old dress code and school uniform policy in North Chicago Community Unit School District 187.

In a highly diverse school environment such as North Chicago, Ill., where more than 70 percent of the children qualify for the federal lunch program, the major challenge is to keep the focus on teaching and learning. Our mandatory K-12 school uniform policy is helping us do just that. We have raised academic standards and improved student behavior throughout our 4,800-student system.

Policy Particulars

The school board created a Uniforms Task Force early in 1997 to explore the feasibility of requiring every student to wear a uniform to school. Chaired by a board member, the task force was composed of six parent volunteers, a few teachers, several principals, the superintendent, the district's communications coordinator and several high school students.

Parents on the committee quickly endorsed the proposal. While the educators respected that view, they raised their doubts, too, fearing they would be spending precious time enforcing the use of uniforms every day.

When a proposed school uniform requirement was first raised in our school district, I admit some of my administrative colleagues had serious reservations. They were concerned that enforcing uniform wear by students would be burdensome and time-consuming and would not necessarily lead to significant changes in the school climate.

I'm pleased to say our initial doubts have been allayed by several documented improvements that have resulted largely from our 3-year-old dress code and school uniform policy in North Chicago Community Unit School District 187.

In a highly diverse school environment such as North Chicago, Ill., where more than 70 percent of the children qualify for the federal lunch program, the major challenge is to keep the focus on teaching and learning. Our mandatory K-12 school uniform policy is helping us do just that. We have raised academic standards and improved student behavior throughout our 4,800-student system.

Policy Particulars

The school board created a Uniforms Task Force early in 1997 to explore the feasibility of requiring every student to wear a uniform to school. Chaired by a board member, the task force was composed of six parent volunteers, a few teachers, several principals, the superintendent, the district's communications coordinator and several high school students.

Parents on the committee quickly endorsed the proposal. While the educators respected that view, they raised their doubts, too, fearing they would be spending precious time enforcing the use of uniforms every day.

Over a five-month period, the task force reviewed background research and visited a Chicago elementary school where uniforms were mandatory. A survey of all students to gather input elicited a limited response, but those who did favored the idea. A public hearing at the high school, attended by more than 100 parents, teachers and students, brought predictable support from most parents and criticism from most students.

Task force members debated long and hard on policy specifics. They wanted clothing that would look like a uniform while being affordable. They also wanted to avoid being overly restrictive. They ended up with simple requirements that specified what colors could be worn and prohibiting particular styles of wear, such as denim, cargo pants, T-shirts, jogging tops, oversized clothing, transparent clothing, beach sandals and gang-related jewelry. The most difficult issue to resolve was whether to allow athletic shoes outside physical education classes and after-school sports.

To avoid constitutional challenges, the policy included a provision whereby parents could exempt their child from the requirement for financial or religious reasons. Students exempt from uniform dress would have the option of wearing business casual dress. Some task force parents didn't think anyone should be exempted, but they acquiesced when I insisted on legal grounds. To date, no exemptions have come before the school board.

The parents on the committee also wanted to require uniforms of all high school students immediately, but the high school principal--who had worked in another district that attempted unsuccessfully to impose uniforms on high school students--persuaded them to hold off until students, parents and educators had some experience with uniforms in the lower grades. The task force instead imposed a business casual dress code at the high school, with the understanding that uniforms would be required later if students violated the dress code.

Communicating Widely

The task force publicized the proposed policy through district publications and fliers were sent home with students. Posters promoting the benefits of school uniforms were placed in all 10 schools. Informational meetings took place at each school.

The board of education adopted the task force's proposal unanimously in June 1997 with little discussion and no objections from the audience. I attribute this display of unity to successful marketing and extensive districtwide communications.

Once adopted, the policy had to be communicated before parents began buying school clothes for the fall term. A brochure in Spanish and English detailed the requirements and listed businesses where uniforms could be purchased. The district also advised area department stores of the uniform policy and asked for their cooperation in providing good-quality, reasonably priced clothing that would satisfy the guidelines.

Through a grant program funded by Target, Project Success and the United Way, families unable to afford uniforms can obtain them without charge, but few families have requested this assistance. The task force also set up a swap shop, an exchange program staffed by volunteers where parents can bring used uniforms to trade for clothing in other sizes and colors.

Vigilant Enforcement

The business casual dress code that was introduced at our high school in fall 1997 turned out to be difficult to enforce. After two years of increasing noncompliance, the board approved a task force recommendation for mandatory use of uniforms in the high school. By this time, the principal believed students had been given ample warning that uniforms would be required if they failed to comply with the dress code.

The new policy took effect in August 1999. Violations were high during the opening few weeks, largely due to confusion over what was permitted, before dropping sharply. The policy works well but requires vigilance. Throughout the day, classroom teachers monitor student appearance to identify those who attempt to modify their clothing during the day.

When a student in a K-5 school is found to be out of uniform, a letter is sent home to the parent asking that the student be properly dressed in the future. Repeated infractions lead to a parent conference. In the middle schools, the parent is called about a first-time violation and asked to bring appropriate clothing to the school for the child. If parents or guardians are not available, the violators are removed from class for the day and placed in in-school suspension.

At the high school, administrators check students for proper wear at the entrance and send home anyone out of compliance. Administrators also check for violations during passing periods and in the cafeteria. Repeated infractions will lead to a parent conference.

To handle the enforcement work, we hired a full-time dress code clerk to process uniform violations. The clerk is responsible for contacting parents, completing the uniform violation form, notifying teachers of students' unexcused absences, maintaining an electronic database and preparing letters to parents.

To keep parents aware, the uniform policy brochure is updated each year and mailed districtwide. The requirements also are summarized in the school registration brochure, in handbooks distributed to parents and on the district's Web site. Parents registering their students at North Chicago High School are required to sign an agreement pledging to adhere to the uniform policy.

The district's Uniforms Task Force (since renamed the Uniform Policy Review Board) meets three times a year to review implementation and consider modifications to the policy.

Proud Gains

Districtwide mandatory uniform practices have contributed to a healthy impact on student behavior and academic performance. At North Chicago High School, daily average dress code violations dropped from 58 percent to 2 percent.

More students are taking the ACT (the district's average score rose from 17.2 to 19.8 over the last two years), more Advanced Placement exams are taken, and more students are earning academic honors. The dropout and truancy rates also have declined.

Mandating School Uniforms at All Grades

SCHOOL CLIMATE by PATRICIA L. PICKLES

When a proposed school uniform requirement was first raised in our school district, I admit some of my administrative colleagues had serious reservations. They were concerned that enforcing uniform wear by students would be burdensome and time-consuming and would not necessarily lead to significant changes in the school climate.

I'm pleased to say our initial doubts have been allayed by several documented improvements that have resulted largely from our 3-year-old dress code and school uniform policy in North Chicago Community Unit School District 187.

In a highly diverse school environment such as North Chicago, Ill., where more than 70 percent of the children qualify for the federal lunch program, the major challenge is to keep the focus on teaching and learning. Our mandatory K-12 school uniform policy is helping us do just that. We have raised academic standards and improved student behavior throughout our 4,800-student system.

Policy Particulars

The school board created a Uniforms Task Force early in 1997 to explore the feasibility of requiring every student to wear a uniform to school. Chaired by a board member, the task force was composed of six parent volunteers, a few teachers, several principals, the superintendent, the district's communications coordinator and several high school students.

Parents on the committee quickly endorsed the proposal. While the educators respected that view, they raised their doubts, too, fearing they would be spending precious time enforcing the use of uniforms every day.

Over a five-month period, the task force reviewed background research and visited a Chicago elementary school where uniforms were mandatory. A survey of all students to gather input elicited a limited response, but those who did favored the idea. A public hearing at the high school, attended by more than 100 parents, teachers and students, brought predictable support from most parents and criticism from most students.

Task force members debated long and hard on policy specifics. They wanted clothing that would look like a uniform while being affordable. They also wanted to avoid being overly restrictive. They ended up with simple requirements that specified what colors could be worn and prohibiting particular styles of wear, such as denim, cargo pants, T-shirts, jogging tops, oversized clothing, transparent clothing, beach sandals and gang-related jewelry. The most difficult issue to resolve was whether to allow athletic shoes outside physical education classes and after-school sports.

To avoid constitutional challenges, the policy included a provision whereby parents could exempt their child from the requirement for financial or religious reasons. Students exempt from uniform dress would have the option of wearing business casual dress. Some task force parents didn't think anyone should be exempted, but they acquiesced when I insisted on legal grounds. To date, no exemptions have come before the school board.

The parents on the committee also wanted to require uniforms of all high school students immediately, but the high school principal--who had worked in another district that attempted unsuccessfully to impose uniforms on high school students--persuaded them to hold off until students, parents and educators had some experience with uniforms in the lower grades. The task force instead imposed a business casual dress code at the high school, with the understanding that uniforms would be required later if students violated the dress code.

Communicating Widely

The task force publicized the proposed policy through district publications and fliers were sent home with students. Posters promoting the benefits of school uniforms were placed in all 10 schools. Informational meetings took place at each school.

The board of education adopted the task force's proposal unanimously in June 1997 with little discussion and no objections from the audience. I attribute this display of unity to successful marketing and extensive districtwide communications.

Once adopted, the policy had to be communicated before parents began buying school clothes for the fall term. A brochure in Spanish and English detailed the requirements and listed businesses where uniforms could be purchased. The district also advised area department stores of the uniform policy and asked for their cooperation in providing good-quality, reasonably priced clothing that would satisfy the guidelines.

Through a grant program funded by Target, Project Success and the United Way, families unable to afford uniforms can obtain them without charge, but few families have requested this assistance. The task force also set up a swap shop, an exchange program staffed by volunteers where parents can bring used uniforms to trade for clothing in other sizes and colors.

Vigilant Enforcement

The business casual dress code that was introduced at our high school in fall 1997 turned out to be difficult to enforce. After two years of increasing noncompliance, the board approved a task force recommendation for mandatory use of uniforms in the high school. By this time, the principal believed students had been given ample warning that uniforms would be required if they failed to comply with the dress code.

The new policy took effect in August 1999. Violations were high during the opening few weeks, largely due to confusion over what was permitted, before dropping sharply. The policy works well but requires vigilance. Throughout the day, classroom teachers monitor student appearance to identify those who attempt to modify their clothing during the day.

When a student in a K-5 school is found to be out of uniform, a letter is sent home to the parent asking that the student be properly dressed in the future. Repeated infractions lead to a parent conference. In the middle schools, the parent is called about a first-time violation and asked to bring appropriate clothing to the school for the child. If parents or guardians are not available, the violators are removed from class for the day and placed in in-school suspension.

At the high school, administrators check students for proper wear at the entrance and send home anyone out of compliance. Administrators also check for violations during passing periods and in the cafeteria. Repeated infractions will lead to a parent conference.

To handle the enforcement work, we hired a full-time dress code clerk to process uniform violations. The clerk is responsible for contacting parents, completing the uniform violation form, notifying teachers of students' unexcused absences, maintaining an electronic database and preparing letters to parents.

To keep parents aware, the uniform policy brochure is updated each year and mailed districtwide. The requirements also are summarized in the school registration brochure, in handbooks distributed to parents and on the district's website. Parents registering their students at North Chicago High School are required to sign an agreement pledging to adhere to the uniform policy.

The district's Uniforms Task Force (since renamed the Uniform Policy Review Board) meets three times a year to review implementation and consider modifications to the policy.

Proud Gains

Districtwide mandatory uniform practices have contributed to a healthy impact on student behavior and academic performance. At North Chicago High School, daily average dress code violations dropped from 58 percent to 2 percent.

More students are taking the ACT (the district's average score rose from 17.2 to 19.8 over the last two years), more Advanced Placement exams are taken, and more students are earning academic honors. The dropout and truancy rates also have declined.

"School Uniforms: Prevention or Suppression?"

 

by Raymond F. Felch III

Consider the following excerpts from the Presidentís Radio Address to the Nation;

"This morning I want to talk with you about what we can do to break hold of gangs and violence in our schools and what we can do to create an atmosphere in our schools that promotes discipline and order and learning ... I believe we should give strong support to school districts that decide to require young students to wear school uniforms. Weíve all seen the tragic headlines screaming of the death of a teenager who was killed for a pair of sneakers or jewelry or a designer jacket. In Detroit, a 15-year old boy was shot for his $86 basketball shoes. In Fort Lauderdale, a 15-year old student was robbed of his jewelry. Just this past December in Oxon Hill, Maryland, a 17-year old honor student was killed at a bus stop, caught in the cross fire during the robbery of another students designer jacket" (Clinton, "Transcript," 1-2).

Why are we proposing to mandate school uniforms for all elementary and middle schools students, while at the same time excluding high school students? Is it not obvious, by the Presidentís own accounting, that the problem group is teenage students ages 15 and older? Moreover, is there any indisputable evidence that school uniforms can help cure societyís violence and disciplinary problems? How reliable are the statistics that show the short term implementation of school uniforms in a select group of elementary and middle schools prevents violence? Knowing all of this, are we still willing to freely give up more of our God given constitutional rights? Worse yet, by accepting this proposal, are we saying that we are in favor of stifling the creativity and individuality of our children?

The Department of Education, in consultation with the Department of Justice, and under the direction of President Clinton, has developed the Manual of School Uniforms. On February 24, 1996, President Clinton signed a directive to distribute this manual to the Nationís 1600 public school districts (Clinton, "Text," 2). Furthermore, the leaders of our schools appear to have hastily embraced this new proposal. A recent national survey of 5,500 secondary school principals shows that they feel school uniforms would help eliminate violence (Tousignant 1). Shawn Ashley, principal in the Long Beach Unified School District, claims there have been fewer incidents of fighting since they imposed the mandatory school uniform policy one year ago. Ashley reports that incidents of fighting has dropped from 1,135 in the 1993-94 school year, to only 554 for the 1994-95 school year (Kennedy 1). Clearly, this is an issue that affects parents across the nation, and should be carefully examined before giving our unconditional support. I believe that any proposal is dangerous if it fails to address the real problem, threatens to diminish our constitutional rights and has been promoted by using misleading statistics.

There is no question that school uniforms can instill a feeling of school spirit, school pride and social acceptance. When compared to designer clothes and name brand basketball shoes, school uniforms can also be a cost effective solution to school wear. Surely, this is an appealing benefit to those families that find it difficult, if not impossible, to afford such luxuriance. Certainly, parents will find that it is easier to shop for their childrenís school attire, and the students will be able to quickly choose their outfits for school in the morning.

Unfortunately, as well served as this proposal may appear, school uniforms can not solve the nationís problems of gang violence. Clearly, these deeply rooted problems are well beyond the scope of any school uniform policy. Furthermore, mandating this policy only at the elementary and middle school level does nothing to curb gang violence occurring at the high schools across our country. As Loren Siegel, Director of the Public Education Department, ACLU, points out, school administrators and teachers have been reluctant to impose the school uniform policy on high school students, because it most certainly will cause the teenagers to rebel (Siegel 1). Cecilia Smith, a guidance counselor at Forestville High School in Prince Georgeís, tells of how teenage students rebelled when school uniforms were tried at their school. Smith explains that the teenagers were rebelling because they were afraid that "it was going to take their individuality away" (Tousignant 2).

Also, Siegel argues that younger children can be persuaded to wear school uniforms. Some children may even like the idea of school uniforms and the feeling of being part of the school community. Unfortunately, teenagers are at a point in their lives where expressing their individuality is extremely important. She describes teenagers as young people that are striving to express uniqueness in many different ways. Siegel cleverly shows that the teenagers are already in uniforms of their own choosing -- baggy pants, T-shirts and baseball caps worn backward (Siegel 1). Clearly, there is no way that school administrators, teachers and parents could expect the proposed school uniform policy to be imposed at the high school level.

Up until now, we have discussed why a school uniform policy is futile in preventing gang violence in our schools. This however, is not the only problem with the school uniform policy. We still need to examine the effect that such a proposal would have on our constitutional rights.

Recently, the A.C.L.U. represented twenty-six families in a school uniform lawsuit against the Long Beach Unified School District. Although the case resulted in an out-of-court settlement, and both sides tentatively agreed to certain provisions, this case raised important issues concerning our legal rights. Barbara Bernstein, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, reaffirmed the opinion of the A.C.L.U. when she stated that requiring school uniforms is not only illegal, it is not the solution to the school systemís problems. Clearly, Bernstein was in favor of President Clintonís goal, calling it "admirable;" however she pointed out that it should not be "accomplished at the expense of constitutional rights" (McCarthey 2). Surely, the Long Beach lawsuit has been instrumental in raising the publicís awareness of the legal ramifications associated with adopting the school uniform proposal.

One important aspect caused by the litigation surrounding the school uniform policy is the "opt out" provision. As a condition of the Long Beach settlement, the school district will attempt to improve the communication with parents and provide improved exemption procedures. The relevance of this provision is clearly demonstrated by the reference made in the Manual of School Uniforms, Item #5: "When a mandatory school uniform policy is adopted, determine whether to have an Ďopt outí provision" ("Manual" 2). The reference in this manual instructs the school administrators on how to provide parents with an exemption from the policy. In some cases, the parents can "opt" to have their children go to another school. In the case where all of the schools in the district require uniforms, as is the case in the Long Beach Unified School District, the parents can "opt" to send their children to school without uniforms ("Manual" 2). In any case, the inclusion of this provision in President Clintonís Manual of School Uniforms shows a genuine concern that a mandatory policy may infringe on our constitutional rights.

Obviously, one would have to agree that a school uniform policy can do little to fight gang violence in our schools. Furthermore, we should all be in agreement that a mandatory school uniform policy is considered unconstitutional. These issues however, are not the only ones surrounding the school uniform proposal. To gain an overall understanding of the problem, discussion of the misleading statistics used in promoting this policy is necessary.

In order to emphasis his position on the school uniform proposal and its apparent effectiveness, President Clinton draws attention to the Long Beach Unified School District as the model system. As Siegel points out, in an obvious attempt to demonstrate its success, President Clinton misleadingly reports the Long Beach Schoolís self-generated data showing decreases in student misconduct. Unfortunately, there was no mention of the other steps taken by the School District to improve school behavior during the experimental year. Siegel reports, at the same time the school uniform policy was implemented, the District began "increasing the number of teachers patrolling the hallways during class changes" (Siegel 1). Clearly, no one can be sure which change had the most effect on student behavior. Furthermore, we need to remember who the gate-keeper of this conclusive data is. Could the school administrators, in an attempt to promote the effectiveness of their new policy and in light of the national attention it had drawn, have possibly overlooked certain infractions during the year?

Whereas, the reliability of the Long Beach case study is clearly questionable, we must also examine the effects of other changes made at the state level across the nation. Craig Donegan, editor for Congressional Quarterly, reports a 1995 survey by the National Conference of Mayors indicating there has been an increase in the number of youth curfews by 45 percent since 1990. Donegan also acknowledges that a recent National Governorís Association (NGA) report states that between 1992 and 1994 there have been 27 states that have passed laws making it easier to prosecute children as adults (Donegan 2). In addition, Senator John Ashcroft enacted the Violent and Hardcore Juvenile Offender Reform Act of 1995 (Donegan 1). Ashcroft also indicated that he wants the funding of the Juvenile Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974 to be contingent upon states prosecuting juveniles age 14 and up as adults. Many cities and states have adopted laws that hold the parents of delinquent children accountable for their chldrenís behavior (Donegan 2). Clearly, there have been many changes made at the national, state and local levels which have been attributed to having a positive effect on juvenile violence. Regardless of these changes, there is very little correlation between requiring school uniforms at the elementary and middle school levels, and the recent reduction in teenage violence at our high schools.

In conclusion, the failure to address the real problem of violence in our schools, itís impact on our constitutional rights and the misleading manner in which it has been proposed, clearly illustrates why we should avert from an unconditional acceptance of the mandatory school uniform policy. It is very clear that we have a serious juvenile violence problem in our country, and positive efforts are constantly being made to alleviate the problem. However, we should not fall victim to the illusion that requiring school uniforms for children under the age of 14 can prevent this teenage violence. Likewise, we need to remember that our constitution insures our right to creativity. We have an obligation to insure that our children are allowed to grow, to be creative and to be independent thinkers. Finally, there has not been any official case studies conducted that prove that school uniforms can prevent teenage violence. The disseminated and relaxed data, which has been so cleverly capitalized upon by our administrators, is inconclusive at best. Our tendency to unconditionally accept a school uniform proposal is just one more example of societyís apathetic approach to problem solving. We all need to take a more active role when addressing issues that concern the rights and welfare of our family.

Cons on Mandatory School Uniforms

By Anne Madison, eHow Contributor

The sight of schoolgirls in plaid skirts and schoolboys in white collared shirts may give you an impression of safety and order, a feeling that things are as they should be. However, this isn't always the case. In many instances, mandatory school uniforms don't provide as many benefits as their proponents would have you believe.

Argument

The arguments from those in favor of mandatory school uniforms sound convincing. If students are in uniforms, differences of class and style are removed, so cliques won't form. When everyone is dressed the same, students won't make fun of each other. School violence will be lessened, in part because students won't be able to wear gang attire and in part because outsiders from other schools can be easily identified. Students will pay more attention in class because they won't be comparing clothes, so grades will improve. Mandatory uniforms will promote a sense of community and school pride.

Refutation

How realistic are the claims from those who promote school uniforms? The evidence from districts who have had success with uniforms isn't conclusive. Other programs have often begun at the same time which may have had an equal or even greater effect on school improvement.

A look back at your own high school years is probably enough to see the unfeasibility of these claims. Teenagers form cliques - it's part of what makes them teenagers. There are many differences to focus on beyond clothes, such as interests, race or intelligence. Superficial differences will still be there as well, in jewelry, jackets or electronic gadgets. This is plenty to promote social groups and possible violence.

Students don't pay attention in class because they don't want to. If they can't distract themselves with clothes, they'll distract themselves with something else. School pride is more likely to come as a matter of success in sports or other endeavors than due to all dressing the same. It may be true that outsiders could be identified, but it wouldn't be hard for someone who wanted to cause trouble to acquire a uniform or an approximation of one.

Effects

The other side of the uniform debate is what effect uniforms have on student individuality. A uniform takes away a student's option to wear the style of clothes she feels comfortable in and to learn to make wise choices about what that style is. Mandatory uniforms may make students feel resentful of the administration that takes away their freedom of choice.

Cost Comparison

Some proponents of mandatory school uniforms claim it's a cheaper option for parents, since they won't have to buy the expensive, name-brand clothes their children would otherwise want. This isn't logical. The parents who would buy expensive, name-brand clothes for their children probably aren't worried about finances anyway. Those who are struggling financially would have bought clothes that were less expensive than the uniforms. Also, they'll have to buy those clothes in addition to the uniforms for weekends and after school.

Considerations

It's important to realize that mandatory school uniforms won't automatically fix children's innate need to insulate themselves in social groups and make themselves feel better by ostracizing the ones who are deemed different. If you want to make lasting change in students' attitudes, a better option than uniforms is to work on an overall safety and education program to teach students how to get along with each other.