over mandatory uniforms in public school has been going on for several
years. Many opponents of the policy believe it is a violation of
students’ First Amendment rights to free speech and expression.
Others oppose the policy for religious reasons.
And there are those who believe the implementation of the policy
would place a financial burden on lower income families.
While these are legitimate concerns, the recent increase in crime
and school violence calls for serious action.
Numerous school districts have already implemented a mandatory
school uniform policy with positive results.
Based on these results and the need to provide children with a
safer and more disciplined learning environment, school uniforms should
be required in all public schools.
In most cases, school uniforms are less expensive than clothing
children normally wear to school. School
uniforms normally cost between $20 and $40 (Manual).
When all students are required to wear the same clothing to
school, they are no longer competing with each other to see who is
wearing the latest designer clothing or the most expensive shoes.
Therefore, parents are relieved of the financial burden of
constantly providing new clothing for their children.
Furthermore, school officials in Seattle, Washington, also
believe the durability, reusability, and year-to-year consistency
increase the affordability of the uniform policy (Manual).
Of course, there are situations when purchasing school uniforms
may prove to be too expensive for some families.
Fortunately, most school districts are able to provide financial
assistance to families in those situations.
For example, in Phoenix, Arizona, a grant from a local foundation
covers the cost of uniforms for families who are unable to afford them.
In Seattle, Washington, local businesses contribute financial
support to the uniform program. Lastly, in Kansas City, Missouri, students who are unable to
afford uniforms are provided uniforms at no cost. The state and school district pay for the uniforms with
school funding. In
addition, many graduating students donate or sell used uniforms to needy
The implementation of the mandatory school uniform policy also
provides students with a more disciplined and productive learning
environment. Many school
districts with the policy in place have reported an increase in
attendance rates. In addition, some school districts reported higher student
achievement levels. In Long
Beach, California, attendance in Kindergarten through 8th
grade rose to an all-time high of 94 percent within three years of the
policy going into effect (Portner).
In a recent survey of 958 elementary and middle school principals
from ten states, those with school uniforms policies in place rated
attendance levels at 48 percent. While
this appears to be low, schools without the policy rated attendance
levels at only 36 percent. Schools
with the uniform policy also rated student achievement levels at 52
percent while schools without the policy rated student achievement at
only 45 percent. The most
dramatic differences between the schools were within the areas of
classroom discipline and school spirit.
School spirit was rated 20 percent higher in schools with the
policy in place. While
classroom discipline was rated 16 percent higher (Graphic).
The uniform policy has directly contributed to these increases by
preventing some of the distractions in the classroom and helping
teachers focus their students on learning.
It also leads to students focusing more on their schoolwork and
less on what other students are wearing.
School violence continues to be a very serious problem in public
schools. Anyone doubting
the seriousness of the problem need only look back to the massacre at
Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado.
On 20 April 1999, two students, armed with guns and bombs,
entered the Columbine High School and started shooting.
The two students, members of a gang know as the Trench-Coat
Mafia, proceeded to kill 12 students and one teacher.
Twenty-three students were wounded, several of them critically (Bai). While the mandatory uniform policy may not have prevented
this tragedy, it may have prevented the students from entering the
school while concealing rifles and other weapons under their now
infamous black trench coats. Furthermore,
it is possible that the Trench-Coat Mafia might never have existed if
the school had previously implemented a mandatory uniform policy.
In another incident, three students in Detroit, Michigan, were
stabbed in February 1998 during a feud about whose designer clothing
looked the best (Merx). Unfortunately,
these types of incidents are no longer uncommon occurrences.
During the school year 1998-1999, a total of 28 students were
killed while attending school in America (National).
In response to the alarming increase of school violence,
President Bill Clinton stated in a recent radio address:
“If it means that teen-agers will stop killing each other over
designer jackets, then our public schools should be able to require
their students to wear uniforms” (Hudson “School”).
While the implementation of a mandatory school uniform policy
will not remove the possibility of violence in our schools, it has been
proven to provide a safer learning environment for students.
The uniform policy has directly assisted in the prevention of
violence and crime in schools by preventing students from wearing gang
colors and insignia. Teachers
were then able to focus their efforts more on education and less on
discipline. In Long Beach,
California, officials found that in the year following the
implementation of the school uniform policy, overall school crime
decreased 35 percent. They
also reported that fights had decreased 51 percent, sex offenses
decreased 74 percent, weapons offenses decreased 50 percent, assault and
battery offenses decreased 34 percent, and vandalism decreased 18
percent. According to the
Long Beach Police Chief William Ellis, “Schools have fewer reasons to
call the police. There’s
less conflict among students. Students
concentrate more on education, not on who’s wearing $100 shoes or gang
attire” (Manual). These
results are not uncommon. In
Norfolk, Virginia, schools with the policy reported significant
improvements in student’s behavior.
They reported that incidents of students leaving class without
permission decreased 47 percent, students throwing objects in class
decreased 68 percent, and fighting decreased 38 percent (Manual).
While the mandatory school uniform policy obviously restricts
what students are allowed to wear to school, it is not an infringement
on their First Amendment rights of freedom of speech or expression.
The courts have repeatedly ruled in favor of school districts
that have implemented the policy. On
3 June 1999, in Connecticut, a Superior Court Judge refused to halt the
enforcement of the policy in Byars v. City of Waterbury.
The judge ruled: “The Waterbury school attire policy is
rationally related to the Waterbury Board of Education’s legitimate
interests in protecting the health and safety of the students in its
schools and eliminating distractions or disruptions in the classroom”
Likewise, in Bossier City, Louisiana, a federal judge dismissed
the case of Canaday v. Bossier Parish School Board. The judge ruled the school board’s mandatory school uniform
policy was not a violation of students’ First Amendment rights to free
speech, free and open expression and religious freedom (Hudson
on 27 July 1999, the Tennessee Attorney General ruled, “There is no
constitutional impediment to the use of reasonable dress codes.
Such regulations do not implicate constitutional issues such as
equal protection, due process, privacy or the First Amendment (Hudson
In addition to Court rulings, there are many other reasons why
the uniform policy does not violate the First Amendment rights of
student. Most school
districts include an “opt out” provision in their uniform policy
(Manual). This provision
allows parents the opportunity to waive the requirement for their child
to wear a school uniform. With
this provision, parents who are opposed to their children wearing school
uniforms for religious or philosophical reasons can “opt-out” of the
school uniform requirement. In
addition to the “opt-out” provision, students are normally permitted
to display religious items or messages on their clothing.
They can also wear expressive items, such as buttons and pins, as
long as they are not a disruptive influence on other students (Manual).
There are also other ways for students to express themselves
other than their clothing. After
all, a person’s individuality is not based solely on the clothing or
shoes that they wear. Lastly,
students are only required to wear school uniforms at school.
Students can continue to wear whatever they choose after school,
on the weekends, and during the summer.
They can even choose their own clothing when attending school
functions after normal school hours.
The debate on mandatory school uniforms will no doubt continue to
escalate. Parents who
oppose the policy should be commended for expressing their genuine
concern about the rights of their children.
However, they should be concerned about the safety and
development of their children as well.
As President Bill Clinton stated, “If student uniforms can help
deter school violence, promote discipline, and foster a better learning
environment, then we should offer our strong support to the schools and
parents that try them” (Clinton).
While the implementation of the school uniform policy will not
eliminate all the problems facing public schools today, the
overwhelmingly favorable results the policy has had on school districts
across America cannot be ignored. Based
on these results and the need to provide our children with a safer and
more disciplined learning environment, the policy should be implemented
in all public schools across America.
Matt. “Anatomy of a Massacre” Newsweek 7 May 2000. 7 May 2000
William. “Memorandum for the Secretary of Education” 5 May 2000. 7
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26 April 2000 <http://www.edweek.org/context/topics/gallery/uniform1.htm.>
“Connecticut school district tightens dress code policy” The
Freedom Forum Online 26 April 2000. 26 April 2000 <http://www.freedomforum.org/speech/1999/8/6waterbury.asp.>
---. “Parents across the
South battle mandatory school dress codes” The Freedom Forum Online
26 April 2000. 26 April 2000
“School uniforms address discipline, learning issues” The Freedom
Forum Online 26 April 2000. 26 April 2000 <http://www.freedomforum.org/speech/1998/3/27uniforms.asp.>
“Tennessee official: ‘Reasonable’ dress codes don’t violate
First Amendment” The Freedom Forum Online 26 April 2000. 26
on School Uniforms.” 29 February 1996. 26 April 2000 <http://www.ed.gov/updates/uniforms.html.>
Katie. “School violence gets priority” The Detroit News 08
May 2000. 8 May 2000 <http://detroitnews.com/1999/classrooms/9903/18/03170161.htm.>
School Safety Center. “The National School Safety Center’s Report on
School Associated Violent Deaths” 19 April 2000. 7 May 2000
Jessica. “Calif. District Points to Uniforms For Plunging Crime
Rate” Education Week on the Web 26 April 2000. 26 April 2000 <http://www.edweek.org/ewvol-17/19long. h17.>