December 12, 2009

Students react to dress code

Julian Cavazos/Victoria Advocate (victoriaadvocate.com)

Rachel Galvan couldn't believe the news.

She found out in her first period class that the Victoria school board chose to standardize the dress code for next year.

She and some of her classmates were disappointed.

"There were a lot of sad faces when we found out," said the 16-year-old, who will be a senior next year.

The Victoria school board announced Wednesday that standardized dress will be implemented starting in fall 2010.

Rachel, who will attend Victoria East High School next year, likes to be unique in her style of dress, she says.

"I'm a person who likes to be different than everyone else and show my individuality through my fashion," Rachel said. "We all enjoy fashion and being able to dress the way we like while still being appropriate."

On the other end of the spectrum are students like Ervin Simmons, who supports the board's decision.

There are more ways students can express themselves than just by what they wear, Ervin said.

"You don't have to just express yourself in just your dress code," he said. "There's so many things at school, like the art club, that you can join to express yourself."
Standardized dress prepares students for their future, Ervin, 16, said. Employees wouldn't normally come to work dressing in baggy pants or tight shirts, he said.

"If you can't follow a dress code at school, how do you expect to follow a dress code at work or in life?" said Ervin, who will go to Victoria West High School. "You'll want to look the way you can to get that job. All we're doing is preparing for life and for our future."

In between the two opposing sides is 16-year-old Michael Valdez. He can see both the pros and cons of going standardized.

Michael thinks the dress should should be adjusted, such as with allowing crew neck T-shirts and sandals.

"My personal colleagues wear crew neck T-shirts quite regularly," he said. "So many kids wear them, and they are so common. Crew necks aren't offensive and sandals aren't offensive."

Standardized dress code may be easier for elementary students to follow than for high school students, he said.

"They really don't care what they wear," he said. "It's not as important to them. But for the older high school level, and possibly eighth grade level, it's going to be a little bit harder to make them adjust after being in school for 10 to 11 years. It's hard to go cold turkey after the same dress code for a long time."

Michael says he also grows facial hair quickly. Like the school district's current rule on facial hair, the standardized code rules that faces must be clean-shaven. No beards, goatees or mustaches will be permitted.

He will attend Victoria East next year.

"I have a very, very heavy beard," he said. "I've had to go home before because I missed shaving one night. You could barely see the stubble on my face. If you have a little bit of stubble, I don't see how I can't learn."


An Expert's Point of view
Nationally, about 22 percent of school children wear some form of standardized dress, said school uniform expert Matt Buesing, of New Jersey.

Buesing has studied and assisted in implementing standardized and uniform dress codes in schools across the country since 2001.

Standardized dress codes have become popular, he said, with about 500,000 students going into standardized or uniform dress last year, according to his collected data.


A common misunderstanding is that a standardized dress code alone is not expected to raise test scores or lower disciplinary referrals.

However, it does change the learning atmosphere, he said.


"What it does do is that it changes the atmosphere of the school climate," Buesing said.
"It creates a more focused classroom environment. It takes the students' focus away from the distractions in the hallways and into a classroom."


Competition among students is also eliminated, he said, especially among women.


Competition could be a reason why some wear tight or revealing clothing, he said.


"If one female student is trying to physically compete with another student, that's gone with the standardized dress code," Buesing said.


If a standardized dress code is approved, parents and students must be given enough time to purchase the approved clothing, he said.


"It's a relatively smooth implementation as long as the district has given families enough lead time to prepare," Buesing said.


The Victoria school board has said they wanted to decide on a dress code this month to give parents ample time to buy approved clothing by next fall.
One thing he sees the Victoria school district having trouble with is making all students tuck in their shirts.

Some students may find that uncomfortable.

"Overweight students might have some difficulty tucking it in," Buesing said. "Due to embarrassments, some schools have backed away."


To keep a standardized dress code going, it must be enforced all the time, he said, or it will not work.


That will involve the teamwork of administration and teachers every period of the day, he said.


"From the minute a student walks in the door, they need to be checked for compliance of the dress code," he said. "As you go throughout the day, it's important schools create that atmosphere so that students stay in compliance throughout the day. If you do that, you will have fantastic enforcement."