During the last decade, the issue of school uniforms in public schools has become a topic of debate in communities across the country. While some feel it is an invasion of rights, most parents and school officials believe it is a practical solution to dress code policies as well as a deterrent to school gangs and peer pressure and helps to establish a learning environment.
1991 study found that the main interests in uniform dress code included financial savings for the family, the need to teach children that a person should not be defined by his clothing, and parent concerns that children may commit a crime in order to get the money for designer clothing (Thomas pg). According to 1996 statistics provided by the U.S. Department of Justice, roughly fifty percent of high school students reported weapons in their schools, forty percent reported gangs, seventy-five percent were aware of incidents of physical attack, robbery, or bullying, and more than half had witnessed such actions (LaFalce pg). In 1996, "a 15-year-old Detroit student was shot for his $86 basketball sneakers, and in Fort Lauderdale, another 15-year-old student was robbed of his jewelry" (LaFalce, pg). Incidents such as these have become far too common place in school districts, lending to policy changes in dress codes and endorsements of school uniforms.
During the past decade, sales of school uniforms have jumped some twenty-percent as more and more districts implement school uniform policies. Although, critics say that mandatory uniforms violate the spirit of the First Amendment and encourages conformity rather than individuality, the popularity of school uniforms is growing and the responses are overwhelming positive (Donning pg). In President Clinton's 1996 State of the Union Speech, he addressed the subject of school uniforms, saying "I challenge all schools to teach character education: good values and good citizenship. And if it means teenagers will stop killing each other over gang jackets, then public schools should be able to require school uniforms" (Schoonmaker N07). This drew favorable response across the political arena. Conservative columnist William F. Buckley, Jr. cited that eighty-five percent of the students from Cardinal Hayes High School in New York, a school that has long had mandatory school uniforms, go on to college, compared with less than fifteen percent in comparable public schools made up of identically endowed students (Buckley 71). A few days after his State of the Union speech, President Clinton issued a memorandum to promptly distribute "the Manual on School Uniforms to each of the Nation's 16,000 public school districts...and provide copies to appropriate organizations representing parents, teachers, and school administrators, and to the interested members of the public" (Clinton 368).
In March 1998, the movement for school uniforms got perhaps its most sweeping endorsement when New York City's Board of Education voted to require its 550,000 elementary school students to wear uniforms beginning the fall semester (Del Valle B06). The allure of school uniforms for educators and parents is that they consider them tool in combating several problems, "from eliminating fashion competition among students to stemming gang violence and robberies and assaults over costly shoes and clothing" (Del Valle B06).
One school superintendent says, "There's so much peer pressure and humiliation over clothing...The preoccupation with what other kids are wearing has gotten so out of hand that it's causing a disruptive learning environment" (Del Vella B06). This seems to be a sentiment that echoes throughout the country as parents and school officials debate dress code policies.
Traditionally the trademark of the elite private academies and religious institutions, school uniforms in the United States date back to the mid-19th century as an attempt to mimic the practices, appearance, and prestige of the best European schools (Del Valle B06). However, today school uniforms are desired for their practicality rather than as a status symbol. Parents favor uniforms because they cost less than fashion street clothes and are more convenient. Says one mother, "It's much easier knowing the night before what the kids are going to wear the next day" (Del Vella B06). Teachers favor them because, as first grade teacher Carol Siracusano says, "Uniforms definitely affect children's attitudes to school. Uniforms signal to them that school is a special place, and it's a place for learning" (Del Vella B06).
Studies suggest that school uniforms have a constructive impact on children and the learning environment. According to a 1994 study by Professor Dorothy Behling of Bowling Green State University in Ohio, "students who were uniforms are perceived by teachers and their peer more positively" (Del Vella B06). A recent survey by "Newsday" revealed that close to 100% of children who were required to wear uniforms were enthusiastic. The children said that the uniforms were "super convenient in the morning, one of the most hectic times of the day," and that uniforms allowed them to focus on their schoolwork rather than worrying about their wardrobes (Del Vella B06). One student expressed, "Without a uniform, kids have to worry about what to wear to school every day" (Del Vella B06).
According to a 1998 survey of roughly a thousand school principals across the country, school uniforms received high marks for having a positive effect on peer pressure, a school's image in the community, classroom discipline and school spirit (Del Vella B06).
School officials throughout the country seem to have only positive things to report from implementing school uniform policies. The Long Beach Unified School District in Long Beach, California enacted a uniform policy for students in 1994 as part of a plan to combat violence and gang activity and the results have been dramatic (Del Vella B06). Incidents of assault and battery went down thirty-five percent, assaults with deadly weapons down over fifty percent, sex offenses decreased seventy-four percent, and fighting decreased by over fifty percent in a four-year period. Moreover, school attendance has increased, reaching its highest point in the seventeen years that such statistics have been compiled just three years after the uniform policy was enacted (Del Vella B06). School officials unanimously agree that schools with uniform policies in place have a better order of discipline and higher attendance than most of those that so not have mandatory dress codes (Thomas pg).
Regardless of the positive evidence, many school districts encounter uniform critics, such as the Parkway School Board in St. Louis, who came up against legal threats from parents who felt very strong about the legal issues of children's First Amendment rights and threatened to take the board to court (Jarrett 1). However, the response to school uniforms is generally so overwhelmingly positive and because many districts leave the issue of uniforms as a volunteer policy, few parents ensue such suits. In fact response for uniforms has been so positive, it led Governor Barnes of Georgia to include uniforms as one the interventions for failing schools under his A+ Education Reform Act of 2000 (Salzer E1).
June Million of the National Association of Elementary School Principals, says that the uniform pages on the association's Web site receives more hits than any other section (Donning pg). According to Million, most major retail chains such as Sears and Wal-Mart stock school uniforms, and more uniform vendors are featured at the NAECP each year. In fact school uniform sales are soaring, reaching nearly $1 billion by the end of the 1990's (School pg). NAECP says that one-fourth of urban schools either used school uniforms or were seriously considering them as a matter of policy as a deterrent to the clothing and colors associated with gangs (Donning pg).
Although, one could argue that school uniforms are a violation of legal rights and individuality, the evidence is overwhelming that they produce more positive results than negative. As our society has become more and more commercialized with an avalanche of sneaker and clothing advertising…