School uniforms — solution or restriction?

. October 16, 2012.
jumper

Does wearing a uniform make a student well behaved and more studious. Or do uniforms squelch self-expression and creativity?
Angela Joseph, St. Wendelin Catholic School principal, grew up wearing school uniforms. Admitting that she loved the concept as a student (“no decision to make in the morning”) she’s even more positive about uniforms as
an administrator.

“Disciplinary issues tend to be less concerning clothes – it’s easier to notice when someone is not in dress code,” Joseph adds. “Attitudes toward school appear to be more focused when students dress up compared to our ‘jeans day’ dress down days. I can’t explain it except to say it is a sense of pride in oneself
and a comfort of knowing we are all in this together.”

Still some choices

Known sometimes as “campus wear,” today’s mandatory school attire is a far cry from the navy blue jumper and shirt-and-tie of decades ago. St. Michael Catholic School, Findlay, has a wide variety of options posted on the school website. Clothing choices aren’t only seasonal, but allow for several mix-and-match selections and even a jumper sized for the popular American Girl dolls.

At St. Mike’s, girls can choose to wear a plaid or navy skirt. Plaid “skorts” were added a few years ago. Both sexes can choose from short or long-sleeved polo shirts, khaki or navy pants and optional jackets. A dark green fleece pullover is also a recent addition. According to principal Anne Brehm, students still express their individuality through shoes and accessories.  The school also offers six “out-of-uniform” days throughout the year.

“Our students use the out-of-uniform days as a fundraiser for our capital campaign,” says Brehm. “They enjoy the chance to wear something different and it gives them some ownership and responsibility for our buildings.”

A positive or restrictive approach?

Brehm also notices the positives that uniforms bring to the classroom environment. She especially likes avoiding the dreaded dress code, that can be difficult to enforce and is open to interpretation.

“Actually, we need to have a dress code in place for our out-of-uniform days,” Brehm adds.  “We let the kids know in advance what’s acceptable and what’s not.  It’s so much easier when the kids have specific choices.”

Brehm has a sense of humor about the occasional attempts to bypass the campus wear guidelines.

“Of course, some of the older girls try to shorten their hems and we’ve seen some creativity with shoes and socks, but on the whole our kids look great,” she laughs.

Enhanced safety

According to an article by Hannah Boyd on the website education.com, uniform proponents cite safety as a factor, feeling that campus wear prevents gang members from wearing colors and insignia and makes it easier for security guards to spot intruders. They also repeat stories of students being mugged for designer clothes and expensive shoes—and that’s not only an issue in high-crime areas. Boyd’s article states that middle-class students report peer pressure to buy expensive clothing and students wearing inappropriately sexualized clothing that isn’t conducive to studying.

On the flip side, campus wear opponents believe that a mandatory school wardrobe squashes creativity and free expression. Some schools have an “opt-out” clause for students who choose not to wear the uniform, and most provide free uniforms to those who cannot
afford them.

Area public school sports campus wear

While parochial and private schools have required uniforms for years, if not decades, they are a relatively recent phenomenon in public schools. John Tomaszewski, Fostoria High School assistant principal, says that it was a very committed group of parents who propelled a campus wear policy into existence starting with the 2010-2011 school year.

“These parents worked for almost a year studying the campus wear issue,” states Tomaszewski. “Since moving our middle schools to the high school building this school year, we now require both high school and middle school students to comply with our campus wear policy.”

Tomaszewski says that campus wear has been a “pleasant surprise” and has seen fewer referrals to the office for clothing-related issues. In addition, he’s seen very few compliance problems; usually it’s a student forgetting a belt, or not tucking in a shirt.

Costly or a cost savings?

St. Michael’s principal, Ann Brehm, admits that purchasing campus wear in the first year can seem costly to some parents. There’s the initial outlay for skirts, pants, sweaters and jackets. To help defer those costs, St. Mike’s holds two “used” campus wear sales each school year. 

Fostoria’s John Tomaszewski credits local vendors with keeping prices low, so campus wear isn’t a financial burden.
“Where else can you get a pair of pants for as little as $8.95?” he asks. “Besides, now parents don’t have to spend as much on trendy items and expensive labels.”

Whether you see uniforms as a pain or a panacea, be prepared to see more of them in our country’s public schools. According to www.greatschools.org, 25 percent of the nation’s public elementary schools have gone to uniforms, and more middle and high schools are jumping on the bandwagon. Area school systems adopting uniform or campus wear policies include Lima City, Fremont, and Sandusky City Schools.

What about Findlay?

Presently, Findlay City Schools do not have a uniform or campus wear policy, but publish a dress code in student handbooks. At the high school, students are not permitted to wear t-shirts publicizing drugs or alcohol, dog collars or chains, or sexually-provocative clothing. Still, dress codes are open to interpretation.

A March, 2010 article by the editor of Blue & Gold, Findlay High School’s newspaper, encouraged adoption of a uniform policy. The article states that students dressing inappropriately for school, “show a complete lack of respect for other students, faculty and
the entire educational system.”

Summarizing the dress situation at the high school, John Sisser, editor, ends his article with the following paragraph: “It’s time to dress for success – literally. It may not be the most popular opinion, but I whole-heartedly  believe that bringing uniforms to the building could improve the overall learning environment.”