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The Need for School Uniforms

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The Need for School Uniforms

A safe and structured learning environment is the first requirement of a good school. Children who feel safe and secure will better learn basic American values. In return they will learn the basis of good citizenship and become better students. In response to growing levels of violence in our schools, many parents, teachers, and school officials have been forced to look toward school uniforms as one potentially positive way to reduce discipline problems and increase school safety.

It has been observed that the adoption of school uniform policies can promote school safety, improve discipline, and enhance the learning environment. The potential benefits of school uniforms include decreasing violence and theft. Some instances involving designer clothing and expensive sneakers have even led to life-threatening situations among students. Uniforms would also prevent gang members from wearing gang colors and insignia at school. Uniforms would also teach students discipline and help them resist peer pressure. Uniforms would also help students concentrate on their schoolwork and would help school officials detect intruders who come unwelcome into the school.

As a result, many local communities are deciding to adopt school uniform policies as part of an overall program to improve school safety and discipline. 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, Detroit, 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. In addition, many private schools have required uniforms for a number of years. Still other schools have implemented dress codes to encourage a safe environment by prohibiting clothes with certain language or gang colors.

The decision to adopt a uniform policy must be made by states and local school districts. For uniforms to be a success, as with all other school initiatives, parents must be involved. We must get the parents involved with the uniform policies from the beginning.

Their support of the uniform policy is critical to its success. The strongest push for school uniforms in recent years has come from parent groups who want better discipline in

their children's schools. Parent groups have actively lobbied schools to create uniform

policies and have often led school task forces that have drawn up uniform guidelines. Many schools that have successfully created a uniform policy survey parents first to gauge support for school uniform requirements and then seek the parent's opinions in designing the uniform. Parent support is also essential in encouraging students to wear the uniform.

A school uniform policy must protect students' religious expression. A school uniform policy must accommodate students whose religious beliefs are greatly burdened by a uniform requirement. As U.S. Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley stated in Religious Expression in Public Schools, a guide he sent to superintendents throughout the nation on August 10, 1995:

Students may display religious messages on items of clothing to the same extent

that they are permitted to display other comparable messages. Religious messages

may not be singled out for suppression, but rather are subject to the same rules as

generally apply to comparable messages. When wearing particular attire, such as

Yarmulkes and head scarves, during the school day is part of students' religious

practice, under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act schools generally may not

prohibit the wearing of such items.

A uniform policy must protect students' other rights of expression. It must not prohibit students from wearing or displaying expressive items. For example, a button that supports a political candidate should be allowed as long as such items do not contribute to disruption by substantially interfering with discipline or with the rights of others. A uniform policy must also prohibit students from wearing a button bearing a gang insignia. A uniform policy must also prohibit items that undermine the integrity of the uniform, such as a sweatshirt that bears a political message but also covers or replaces the type of shirt required by the uniform policy.

There is another big issue within the implementation of school uniforms. Schools must determine whether to have a voluntary or mandatory school uniform policy.

Some schools have adopted completely voluntary school uniform policy, which permits students to freely choose whether and under what circumstances they will wear the school uniform. On the other hand, some schools have determined that it is both warranted and more effective to adopt a mandatory uniform policy.

When a mandatory school uniform policy is adopted, there must be a determination as to whether to have an "opt out" provision

In most cases, school districts with mandatory policies allow students, with parental

consent, to "opt out" of the school uniform requirements.

Some schools have determined, however, that a mandatory policy with no "opt out"

provision is necessary to address a disruptive atmosphere. A Phoenix, Arizona school, for

example, adopted a mandatory policy requiring students to wear school uniforms, or

attend another public school. That Phoenix schools' uniform policy was recently

upheld by a state trial court in Arizona.

In the fight for better and safer schools there must be assistance for families that

need financial help. In many cases, school uniforms are less expensive than the clothing that students typically wear to school. Nonetheless, the cost of purchasing a uniform may be a burden on some families. School districts

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