November 9, 2009

New Jersey public schools adopting school uniform policies

Jen Calantone, New Jersey Newsroom (newjerseynewsroom.com)

Nearly two dozen New Jersey school districts are part of a growing national trend where public schools are outfitting their students in uniforms.

Recently, dress codes have been implemented in the Asbury Park School District and Atlantic City High School. Within the coming months, Neptune City School District and the Black Horse Pike regional school district in Blackwood will be following suit.

Across the nation, about 20 percent of public schools have a school dress code in place. This is the result of many factors, including the tough state of the economy, according to Michael Arking, president of French Toast - one of the largest suppliers of school uniforms in the country. The company has seen an 8 percent kick in sales this year as a result of the increased interest in uniforms.

The move to school uniforms is said to encourage neatness and professionalism among students, Arking said.
"In some cases, in urban areas, it's a safety issue as well," he said.

Uniforms can help "level the playing field" for students, according to Arking. Some believe that schools with a uniform policy have improved test scores, though Arking said he did not think there was an actual study done on this assertion.

The goal is to improve the lives of both students and their guardians, according to Arking.

"Anything that makes moms' lives easier," he said.

The average cost of back-to-school shopping can set a family back about $600 per child, according to Arking. The average cost of a year's worth of school uniforms is about $120.

This is pleasing to parents, especially, Arking said. About 80 percent of parents are in favor of school uniforms, he said.

Generally, the other 20 percent of parents are initially apprehensive about the potential cost of uniforms and the idea that students can not express their individuality in a uniform. These concerns usually dissipate once they realize the price of the uniforms is actually cheaper than other clothes, he said.

Last month, a forum on school uniforms in Clifton uncovered a few misgivings about creating a uniform policy in that school district. At the hearing, which included about 50 people, there were far more people against a uniform policy than in favor.

But Maria Nuccetelli, assistant superintendent of the school district, said that a parents' survey in the district found that 76 percent of about 6,000 respondents approved implementing a school uniform policy.

Because French Toast does not have a whole lot of contact with the students wearing its products, there were no available statistics on how young people felt about wearing uniforms, but Arking said the company is starting to see them as being more in vogue.

"I think kids are kind of apprehensive at first," he said. "But school uniforms are becoming a little bit more fashionable."
Arking said that they are becoming more prevalent in the mainstream media, with shows like "Gossip Girl" featuring students wearing uniforms.

"Kids are starting to accessorize," he said. "Some are even wearing them on weekends."