March 31, 2010

School dress codes and standardized attire for students continues to be a debate in educational circles.

Pamela Schehl /MT Vernon News

Matt Buesing has assisted hundreds of school districts in the development and implementation of effective school uniform policies. As a school board member in Middle Township, N.J., he spearheaded the effort to develop one of the first public school uniform policies in the state of New Jersey. He is a national uniform consultant working with French Toast School Uniforms.

Buesing said that although only anecdotal evidence proves the effectiveness of school uniforms, currently close to 25 percent of all public school children wear some form of standardized dress each day to school, and that number continues to grow.

“Looking at that number,” he said, “the issue of school uniforms continues to be prominent each year in educational debates throughout the country.

“I personally support school uniforms,” he continued, “because I have seen the benefits of uniforms firsthand, and have seen how, when used as part of a larger model of school reform, school uniforms can transform a school district.”

Regarding the cost factor, Buesing said purchasing uniform dress-code compliant clothing is much more cost effective than non-regulated school clothing, especially in difficult economic times. For example, he said, one year of school uniforms can be purchased for a little as $120 at some retailers in the country.

“A student can easily be outfitted with easy-care, long-lasting uniforms for about $150 a year,” Buesing explained. “This includes 10 to 12 items. The durability, reusability and the year-to-year consistency also cut costs.”

As for students’ right to free speech, Buesing said, “While the Supreme Court has never taken up the issue of standardized dress, the federal courts have generally upheld that a school district’s right and responsibility to create a safe campus environment outweighs a student’s right to expression. The appropriate place for a student to express his or her creativity and individualism is in the classroom through schoolwork, not in the hallways through their dress.

“Uniforms help students focus on their most important task, learning. By eliminating the daily distractions of unregulated school clothing, as well as the peer pressure associated with ‘label competition,’ uniforms set the tone for a proper work attitude in the classroom, reduce behavior problems and improve student performance.”

Two local public school districts and the Knox County Career Center have instituted school dress policies.

Mike Warbel, KCCC principal, said each lab at KCCC has a prescribed uniform or dress code. In many cases, he said, it is a safety issue, as when students are welding. In other cases, students are expected to wear industry-standard appropriate clothing.

“Our job,” he explained,” is to prepare students for the workforce and improve their employability. Appropriate attire is a big part of that.”

He said prescribed dress helps students ease into a work routine.

“They feel more organized and therefore more comfortable,” said Warbel.

Reynoldsburg City Schools was the first public school district in Central Ohio to adopt a school uniform policy for students. Uniform policies define what students are allowed to wear to school, as opposed to a dress code, which merely prohibits certain items. The policy, referred to as Raider Wear, went into effect in August 2007, and applies to high school and junior high school students in grades seven and eight. Elementary and middle school students also have a dress code.
Generally, junior high and high school students in Reynoldsburg may wear fitted, beige khaki, black, navy blue or brown belted dress pants with buttoned shirts in solid colors. No red, black or blue shirts are allowed. Shirts must be worn under sweaters, except for turtleneck sweaters, and should be tucked in.

Pants, shorts, skirts and jumpers may not be made of denim, sweat, velour or wind pant material.

As required by state law, Reynoldsburg City Schools provides uniform stipends to students who qualify for the federal Free and Reduced Lunch Program.

Johnstown High School adopted Johnnie Wear for this school year. Pants and shorts must be khaki, black or navy blue, and cannot be made of jeans, denim, sweat, velour or wind pant material.

Shirts must be solid colors of red, gray white or black, and must be tucked in.

Johnstown superintendent Damien Bawn said Johnnie Wear has been so successful at the high school the policy will be extended to the middle school for the 2010-11 school year.

The dress code proposed for Mount Vernon High School permits black or khaki pants, shorts or skirts, and solid color shirts of oxford style, polo style or turtlenecks. Students are encouraged, but not required, to tuck in their shirts.