Perhaps the biggest debate of public education over the past decade besides school vouchers has been the debate over whether or not it is legal to require students to wear a uniform to school. Increased crime, gang violence, poor academic performance in public schools has sparked the movement towards mandatory school uniforms. While school uniforms may seem the perfect solution to the problem, to some its as good as putting a band-aid on a three-inch deep wound. There are many arguments for and against school uniforms in public schools; the main concern has to do with the legality of making uniforms compulsory for public school students. The focus of this paper will be to discuss the issues presented by those both for and against school uniforms. Additionally, the legality of such a policy if implemented will also be presented. Finally, facts and figures on those schools that have implemented school uniform policies will be revealed.
In certain areas of California certain colors convey that the person wearing it is a member of a gang. Sadly, even those who wear these colors who are not members of the gang often become victims of the gangs mindless violence simply for wearing "their" colors. Three thousand miles away in New York City, students have been victims of crime because they wear what is considered to expensive clothing, students are not only targeted by their fellow students but outsiders as well. In the early 1990's the infamous and costly "8-Ball" jacket was highly sought after by thieves and many schools found themselves responding to situations because a student was attacked for his or her jacket. Many are also concerned about the learning environment; some argue that today's youth place more emphasis on clothes and fashion than their schoolwork. Some view the only solution to this violence is to require students to wear the same attire. Despite whether or not one thinks that school uniforms are a good idea or not, lawmakers are still debating over the legality of mandating school uniforms. Angry parents and students alike feel that such a policy is in clear violation of the right to practice freedom of speech.
The aim of mandating school uniforms is to create uniformity among students. Wearing school uniforms will help blur economic and class disparities among students since the all students will adorn the same clothes. Additionally, in this day and age where youth are heavily attracted to fashion and having the newest and most expensive clothes, wearing school uniforms will lessen the emphasis on who has what and who doesn't therefore, children can focus their time and energy and what matters, their education. Requiring all pupils to wear the a uniform levels out the playing field by helping to decrease the overarching focus on clothing and other materialistic views. Senator Tim Emert agrees, in 1999 he started a movement to require children in Kansas public schools to wear uniforms citing that, "I think so much of the problem we have in schools now is based on peer pressure, and so much of that is based on material purchases... For students, it is a matter of "whether I've got the right logo on my chest, when what we're here for is to learn." Proponents of school uniforms also claim that mandatory school uniforms will help to decrease the incidents of violence in schools. According to some studies fashion trends have been related to violence in schools, especially urban schools where sometimes gangs are present who link certain colors or styles with being a member of a particular gang. Unknowing students may be targets of violence simply by wearing the "wrong" color. Additionally, as fashion calls for the baggy, oversized look, this makes it easier for students to transport guns and other weapons to and from school. A study by Callahan and Rivara reveals that one in three youths say that they have easy access to handguns, which does little to lessen the threat of violence in schools. Sadly, children have been injured and even murdered for their clothes. Mandating that students wear the same clothing can help ease the unnecessary tension among students. Today's youth should not squander their learning time over quarrels concerning whose parents make the most money, who has the best clothes or who is wearing the latest fashion trends. However, many people believe that the best way to combat the ills going on in our schools today is by requiring every student wear a uniform. Furthermore, some feel that school uniforms will help to alleviate the financial burden on parents who cannot afford to buy their children new clothing as often as they need them. Uniforms are relatively inexpensive, just a few shirts, skirts (or slacks), a sweater for the winter and a pair of shoes is all that's needed to last the child through the school year. School officials in Long Beach California began to require that students wear school uniforms in 1994 for Kindergarten to the eighth grade. The results have exceeded expectations, in the first year following implementation, the U.S. Department of Education found that overall school crime decreased by 36%; sex offenses, by 74%; physical fights between students, by 51%; weapons offenses, by 50%; assault and battery offenses, by 34%; school suspensions, by 32%; and vandalism, by 18%.
While school uniforms may seem to be the answer for some of the violence in school, there are many who believe that school uniforms will do nothing but perpetuate the issue. The ACLU, who as been in adamant opposition of mandatory uniforms has this to say, "In the end, though, we usually find that the only real disturbances are caused by school officials themselves, when they conspicuously and irrationally punish students for doing nothing more than quietly exercising a constitutional right." said Kent Willis, Executive Director of the ACLU of Virginia. In August of 2002, a case involving an honor student, Justin Guiffre who was denied acceptance to his choice of middle school simply because he refused to adhere to the dress code at the school caught the attention of the ACLU. Eventually, the courts granted the student the right to attend that school citing that "Justin Guiffre was not made to shed his constitutional right to freedom of speech at the schoolhouse gate." Samantha Quinn, a mother adamantly opposed to mandatory school uniforms proclaims on her web site, "whoever thinks dressing our children alike will improve learning and even keep away the bad guys (look out! - he doesn't have our polo shirt on - he must be bad!) is looking for a quick band aid solution to the complex and disturbing problem of what ails our public school system today." Research conducted by Notre Dame professors, David L. Brunsma and Kerry A. Rockquemore who tested the effect of school uniforms said, "Our failure to find a direct effect of uniforms on behavioral outcomes or academic achievement provide cause for a closer examination of the uniform debate." School officials who seek to have uniformity among students by wearing school uniforms with no logo's or other flashy designs may be in for a big shock. Major clothing designers including DKNY, Esprit and Bugle Boy manufacture their own line of school uniforms in efforts to tap into this growing market segment. School districts that mandate the wearing of uniforms may find themselves in the same dilemma that they took great measures to avoid. Children may begin to compare their clothes not based on style based on brand and thus creating rift between the students wearing Kmart uniforms and those wearing DKNY uniforms stirring up conflict once again. Opponents of mandatory school uniforms claim that aside from the apparent unconstitutional basis of such a policy much of the argument can be summed as David L. Brunsma and Kerry A. Rockquemore stated in the conclusion of their research "Instituting a uniform policy can be viewed as analogous to cleaning and brightly painting a deteriorating building in that on the one hand, it grabs our immediate attention but on the other, is, after all, really only a coat of paint."
Legal Issue's and Statistics
The primary issue surrounding the school uniform issue has to do with whether or not mandating school uniforms is a breach of the first amendment. The Supreme Court has made it clear that free speech extends to actions and dress but in the case
Tinker v. Des Moines School District, 393 U.S. 503, 508 the Supreme Court ruled that "Nothing in the Constitution prohibits the states from insisting that certain modes of expression are inappropriate and subject to sanctions. The inculcation of these values is truly "the work of the schools." Until the Supreme Court sets a precedence on whether or not requiring students to wear uniforms is unconstitutional or not, we will continue to debate the question we will continue to see such cases in the news. As identified earlier in this paper violence had decreased tremendously when school…