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The Debate Over School Uniforms

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A Controversial Subject Among Parents

School districts across the country are adopting uniform policies, whether it’s just a general guideline of khakis and white-collared shirts or a complete custom uniform that must be ordered. For some parents, uniforms seem like a final solution to the never-ending battle over what their children wear to school. For other parents, school uniforms represent an infringement on their children’s rights.

The debate over school uniforms has been hotly contested for a long time and will most certainly be a prime topic of discussion in your community if your child’s school district is considering putting a policy in place. Some parents have taken a stand against uniforms in their children’s schools, while others support the new policies whole-heartedly.

No matter what your opinion, it’s important to remember that there are both benefits and challenges to the policy. And if you find yourself debating with another parent or a member of the school board, remember to keep a level head and evaluate both sides of the issue.

The Benefits of School Uniforms

Support for uniforms goes all the way to the top. In his 1996 State of the Union message, President Clinton said, “If it means that the schoolrooms will be more orderly, more disciplined and that our young people will learn to evaluate themselves by what they are on the inside instead of what they’re wearing on the outside, then our public schools should be able to require their students to wear school uniforms.”

According to supporters, school uniforms:

  • Lessen social pressures. Students whose families can’t afford expensive clothing may feel like less of a target for bullying, and all students won’t have the concern of what to wear each day. In some ways, uniforms create a level playing field.
  • Set a tone for learning and order. Uniforms reduce some of the distractions that are present in a classroom full of students with different band t-shirts, colorful skirts, graphic prints, and more. Uniforms also create the same feeling of discipline you get when wearing business clothes to work.
  • Reduce violence. Uniforms prevent students from wearing gang colors or accessories, reducing the chance of gang-related conflict on school grounds. Uniforms also mean there are no designer jeans or expensive shoes at school, so there is less risk of students getting robbed.
  • Make it easier and quicker to get ready in the morning. Students can sleep in a little longer or have extra time for sit-down breakfast if they don’t have to spend part of their morning stressing over what to wear.
  • Raise attendance. In some cases, schools saw better attendance after uniforms were enforced. This could be due to a combination of the reasons stated above.
  • Help identify intruders in school. When all the students are wearing a uniform, any person who doesn’t belong will stand out immediately. This helps create a safer environment for the students, and also helps protect them and keep them together on field trips.

The Challenges of School Uniforms

The Supreme Court has not made a ruling on school uniforms, but most lawsuits against them are unsuccessful. If you feel strongly against school uniforms, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t stand up for your opinion, just keep in mind that it won’t be an easy battle. Those who oppose them argue that school uniforms:

  • Limit freedom of expression. Many parents feel clothing is a way for their children to express their individuality. Some worry that by limiting a student’s freedom, she might choose to express herself in other less desirable ways, such as tattoos or piercings.
  • Cost too much for large and low-income families. Parents pay taxes for “free public education,” but the cost of a uniform may place an unfair burden on some families. While some schools offer free or discounted uniforms to low-income families, not all schools do.
  • Aren’t comfortable. Your child would probably feel more comfortable in his own clothing. This could be distracting or make him dislike attending school.
  • Are difficult to enforce. If your school district is issuing a general dress code rather than uniforms, there will more than likely be debate over what qualifies and what breaks the rules.
  • Cause controversy. For schools with a specific uniform, choosing the look of said uniform can lead to disagreements. Should the school district force the girls to wear skirts? Do the boys have to wear ties? Should the girls also wear ties to ensure gender equality? All of these issues are bound to arise when selecting a uniform and any time changes are made.

Are Uniforms Right for Your Child’s School?

It’s important to keep the individual school in mind when considering uniforms, rather than the principal behind the policy. Each school district has different needs and is composed of different types of students. What works for one school may not be the best practice in another.

If you’re concerned about your child’s school adopting the policy — or other parents hindering it — the best thing to do is weigh the arguments and consider the facts about the school. And always remember to keep an open mind.

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