Angus Young, of the rock band AC/DC, is who comes to mind when picturing a school uniform. His costume is like that of an English schoolboy dressed in shorts and a funky hat. Another image that comes to my mind when thinking about school uniforms is that of a group of young fifth-graders, all wearing the same colored uniforms, assembled in front of a Catholic School. Such pictures of students dressing in school uniforms have led to stereotyping and a negative attitude towards schools enforcing a uniform policy. Students being thought of as robots without the ability to express themselves freely in a society that says you must express yourself and be an individual at all cost. The problem is that the cost to express oneself and be an individual is high in some cases. In Detroit, a 15-year-old boy was killed for his $86 basketball shoes (Grantham 5). I believe that the cost of life is too high. It would be better to be laughed at and teased about wearing a uniform than to be shot by some gang member that did not like the color of the pants I am wearing. School uniforms have been the cause of many jokes and harassment to those who wear them. In the past public schools considered uniforms old and out-dated trends. Recently though, many public schools have started to implement and enforce a uniform policy. The implementation of a school uniform mandate is important if we are still striving to improve the quality of education that our students receive. The arguments against school uniforms are fading while those for (or promoting) them are gaining ground.
Today many public schools are mandating and enforcing school uniforms for their students. The San Antonio School district requires all 60,000 of its student s to wear uniforms. Over 60% of Fort Worth’s elementary schools require their students to wear uniforms (Radcliffe 1999). In fact, in 1995 the Texas legislature gave public school districts the authority to require uniforms under Texas State Law (Radcliffe 1999). The law, however, is a voluntary law; schools are not required to have a uniform policy. A Dallas attorney, Domingo Garcia, has proposed legislation that would make it mandatory to wear uniforms in Grades k-12 in Texas (Ramos 1997).
The first fundamental issue that school board officials and law makers should look at before they make new policies and laws concerning school uniforms is whether or not these new laws and policies have a positive impact on students’ overall performance. The question should not be limited to academic performances only, but should also include other socially learned behavior that will enhance the students’ ability to conform to the social norms needed to be successful in today’s society. However, it can be argued that if students are required to wear uniforms while in school they will have a better opportunity to relate to each other on a social level. Mostly because clothes seem to have a lot to do with the way students interact. I am sure that most students would not bother killing each other because one student has a newer tie than the other less privileged student does. A lessened degree of attention and concern with fashion will result in a better condition for serious study as well as lessen the cultural and economic challenges of students and parents (Caruso 86). Nathan, a fifth grader at Queen of Angels Catholic School said, “Uniforms provide a better educational atmosphere and symbolize school spirit. If all students dress alike, their attention will not focus on Johnny’s new Tommy Hilfiger outfit.”
Any situation that does not promote improvement of students in school should be looked at and studied. There is nothing positive about having to worry about affording the latest fashions. Would it not be better to strive and worry about who can get the best grade or do the best science project? What if there is a reduction of crime because of mandated uniforms? We must agree that there is no part of our students’ lives that can be improved by the atmosphere of crime. How to deal with crime is one of the ethical questions all school administrators and lawmakers must address and act on accordingly. The statistics say that schools having a school uniform policy have seen a steady decrease in crime. Long Beach Unified School District was the first large urban school district in the United States to require school uniforms. One incredible reduction was that sex offenses have decreased 93% (Bell 24).
The cost of implementing a uniform policy must also be looked at closely. The fact that all students have different degrees of economic status requires us to address this matter. If a student can not afford uniforms will they not be able to go to school? Would it be better to have them spend all their money on uniforms so they could go to school? If they spend all of their money on uniforms, will they have money to participate in after school sports or social events? Maybe they would spend the money on uniforms instead of nutritious food, thereby affecting their health. The current Texas law does provide ways of accommodating students who can not afford to buy uniforms (Radcliffe 1999). The Long Beach Unified School District has privately raised over $160,000 for assistance to disadvantaged students. By helping the disadvantaged, they have not put any financial burden on the taxpayers. Unlike Long Beach’s school district, San Antonio’s school district has spent about $500,000 to outfit 90% of their students, and has cost the taxpayers a lot of money (Radcliffe 1999). They ought to look at ways of reducing the cost to taxpayers, possibly through private funding from companies that participate in philanthropic programs.
The nation has implemented school uniforms in about 25% of its public elementary, middle, and junior high schools (Paliokas 33). The general improvements of the students who attend schools that require them to wear uniforms provide substantial evidence for the arguments for school uniforms. In almost all of the schools that now have uniform policies test scores have gone up ten to fifteen points (Paliokas 33). I can conclude from the improvements that maybe we ought to have 100 percent of the public schools starting uniform policies. I don’t believe that waiting for years of research and study on this issue will change the outcome. Students are moving through school fast and to wait for years to go by before making this a mandate can only lessen the chances for improvement in the students who are currently in school. The motivation behind this issue is not to infringe on students’ rights or burden parents with extra cost, but to simply improve the students.
Do students have rights as part of the American populous? If so, what are their rights? Do they even have the right to choose to go or not to go to school, or is this, the rights of the parents and society? Our society is now more than ever seems to be concerned with preserving the rights and feelings of others. Are first graders’ minds capable of judging what is in their best interest or is it up to the adult population? Parents are the ones who should teach and mentor the children in the spirit about their rights, and how to use good judgment and common sense. Any dress restriction that infringes on a student’s First Amendment right must be justified by a showing that the student’s attire materially disrupts school operation, infringes on the rights of others at the school, or otherwise interferes with any basic educational mission of the school (Grantham 1). The legal aspect of requiring students to wear uniforms is a small matter if the majority of the parents back the policy. However, some will fight with every penny they have so that their kids will not have to wear the uniforms. The biggest legal issue is the First Amendments’ right to free expression. Antagonists use the First Amendment to say that the school has violated the students’ liberty to control his or her personal appearance (Paliokos 33).
Stakeholders are involved in every part of the uniform issue. Because the decision will affect every child, adult, and elderly in one way or another, every person is a stakeholder. The children will be affected the most because they will have to wear the uniforms. I do not have children but I am a stakeholder because if the uniform policy is voted on and passed, chances are my local school tax will increase to help pay for the new uniforms. Paying for the uniforms might not seem fair to someone like me; however, if I look at the long-term benefits of providing school uniforms, I believe that the chance of a better society in my golden years is more likely to increase.
The improvement of student’s basic education holds very high stakes for everyone. The responsibility of the schools and lawmakers is to improve students. They are also responsible to do this within a budget. This does mean there will be some compromises and restrictions to what and how they accomplish the task of improving the students. They must also stay within the legal aspects of our laws, which have been brought about by society’s past decisions. If the laws are no longer valid they need to be changed for the current situations faced today by schools trying to improve the education system.
Students, parents, teachers, school administrators, and the general society are the primary stakeholders involved with this issue. What challenges, threats, or opportunities do these stakeholders pose? What economic, legal, ethical, and philanthropic responsibilities do they have? We will start by looking at the students. The challenge they have has been a negative and stressful one. “What to wear today?” is a question that will no longer have to be asked each morning before school. The desire to have the coolest and newest fashions is no longer a challenge for students who attend schools with uniform policies, at least not while at school. The challenges to put up with being teased or laughed at is no longer there. Gwynith, a student at Queen of Angles Catholic School said, “The good thing about uniforms is that everybody wears the same color… Having uniforms is a lot better because people can not talk about and laugh at your clothes.” We do, however, have the threat that some of the opposing students will not comply which could cause disciplinary problems or even cause them to drop out of school. The opportunities for the students are all positive ones. Simply put, they will have more opportunities to better their academic lives because the priority of fashion standards is gone. As Jean Anderson, principle of Queen of Angels said, “Instead of worrying about their clothes or what everyone else is wearing, kids focus on math and reading.”
Parents will also enjoy the decreasing challenge of keeping their kids in the newest fashions. Since the average cost of three outfits can run about $130, the money issue will improve for them. Parents have had to struggle with deciding if what their kids are wearing is proper. You might even ask, is it ethical to let my daughter go to school in an almost transparent and skintight outfit? The students being at a school with a uniform policy would now solve this problem. Opposing sides of uniforms in schools say that forcing students to wear uniforms instead of what they want is a violation of their children’s rights as well as the law. They do however seem to be the minority. Most parents seem to support uniforms. The Longview Independent school district says they would support the decision for school uniforms if 75 to 80 percent of the parents were for it (Bell 27).
Teachers have a different challenge at hand, enforcing the current dress code. At most schools the guidelines of a dress code can be subjective. Let us say that the school dress policy is that girls must wear skirts that go down to there knees and a student is seen wearing one that does meet that requirement, but it is a see-through skirt. This could cause a problem because the requirement is subjective. If the uniform policy was in effect this would not be because the see-through skirt would either be part of the uniform and accepted, or not. This makes it easier for teachers to make a decision. Either it is a violation or not. One of the great benefits that it would provide the teachers with is that by having all the students dressing alike, they would be able to identify students who belong to the school and trespassers who do not. This is a great safety issue in today’s times where it is important to regulate who comes on campuses. What if you are on a school field trip? Would it not be easier to identify your students in a crowd if you did not have to remember what everyone was wearing? Say if they were kidnapped. Would it not be easier to describe them to the police?
School administrators have all of the above issues to deal with. They are the ones who are challenged to improve the atmosphere in which students are educated. They have the challenge of how to implement uniform mandates in the schools. Their decisions go range from the smallest details. What colors, what style, what material? All of which can have either positive or negative effects on the children. They must accomplish this and be able to stay within the legal, economic, and ethical parameters that currently guide their decisions (Ramos 1997). Though this is a great opportunity, it is also a great responsibility to have.
General society has a stake that is both short term and long term. On the short term, they will have to support the decisions of the uniform policies that are imposed upon the students and parents. Some of the long-term stakes would be requiring paying for some of the uniforms for students who can not afford them. However, with help from government funding the cost of the uniforms per capita will decrease substantially. Also, the chances of local sales taxes are likely to go up to help distribute the cost evenly (Radcliffe 1999).
The Texas 1995 law allows some exceptions to their uniform rule with a written request that states a bona fide religious or philosophical objection to the requirement (Ramos 1997). Schools should look at objections of the public before starting the implementation of uniforms in the school. Policy makers need to be able to justify the actions by demonstrating the link between the way a student dresses and disruptive behavior, or between a completely uniformed dress and improvements of the students’ behavior. They should consult with the schools legal advisors to possible legal problems. Determine ways of enforcing the policy, as well as what punishments would occur if students do not obey the uniform policy. Finding out what the parents and students think and involving them before the final starting date. They might try to find out a general consensus of what the student’s favorite color or type of material they want to use. They might even look at having some variety maybe two different colors. This way the students will feel included in the decisions and might not fight the policy, making the discipline problem smaller because they would be less likely to rebel. A financial study should be conducted prior to the policy to determine how much of a burden is going to be imposed on the school itself. Find out how many students would require financial assistance accompanied with the cost of uniforms.
The board of trustees of an independent school district may adopt rules that require students of a school to wear school uniforms, if the board of trustees determines that the requirement would be beneficial for the environment at the school. The rules the board of trustees adopts must designate a source of funding that shall be used in providing uniforms for students at the school who are educationally disadvantaged. A parent (or guardian) of a student assigned to attend a school at which students are required to wear school uniforms may choose for the student to be exempted from the requirement, or to transfer to a school at which students are not required to wear uniforms. If the parent or guardian provides a written statement that, as determined by the board of trustees, states a bona fide religious or philosophical objection to the requirement. With a way that everyone can be happy there should be no reason for the delayed continuation of the implementation of uniforms worn in schools. It is my own believe having gone to a public school, and observing a private school, that uniforms can possibly make a big difference toward the education system.
Bell, Becky. “LISD group focuses on school uniforms.” Longview News Journal 22 March 2000: 23-37.
Caruso, Peter. “Individuality vs. Conformity: The Issue Behind School Uniforms.” NAASP Bulletin 20 September 2000: 83-88.
Grantham, Kimberly. “Restricting Student Dress In Public Schools.” School Law Bulletin 25 November 1994: 1-10.
Paliokas, Kathleen L. “Trying Uniforms On For Size.” The American School Board Journal 13 May 1996: 32-35.
Radcliffe, Jennifer. “Irving Joins Movement Supporting Required Attire.” Star Telegram 25 March 1999