Jul 28, 2011

Upstate city becomes latest to implement uniform policy in schools; trends show increase in similar policies

Poughkeepsie, NY – WAMC Northeast Public Radio

This week, a decision was reached in one upstate New York school district to establish a mandatory uniform policy for students. As WAMC's Hudson Valley Bureau Chief Greg Fry reports, it's the latest chapter in an ongoing debate over what kids should wear to school...

The new policy in the Poughkeepsie City School District will be in effect at the beginning of classes in September. District officials say the policy is designed to keep kids focused on academics instead of fashion, to increase school spirit, and to decrease bullying.

Matt Buesing is the School Marketing Coordinator with French Toast School Uniforms, a company that consulted with school board officials in Poughkeepsie before the policy was adopted. He says they've seen a roughly seven percent increase from year-to-year in the amount of public schools that are adopting uniform policies. Buesing adds that what's going on in Poughkeepsie is not out of the ordinary from what's happening around the country.

According to numbers from the National Center for Education Statistics for the 2007-2008 school year, about 18 percent of public school principals reported that their students were required to wear uniforms. That was up from 12 percent at the turn of the century. In that time frame, the number of public schools that implemented a dress code jumped from 47 to 55 percent. Many districts, as in Springfield, Massachusetts, have implemented policies that regulate the color of clothing worn, the type and length of the clothing, and the use of plain clothing, without logos, pictures, or messages.

Brian Butry is a spokesman for the New York State School Boards Association, which has no policy regarding the matter. If a school district believes it's something that can help students, Butry says they encourage that. However, he says they understand why districts wouldn't want to go in that direction.

Concerns were raised about the short length of the debate on the issue in Poughkeepsie, School district officials say no one vendor will be required for the uniforms, and say the goal is to make the policy as easy as possible for families within the district.

One part of the policy allows for parents to request that their student be exempted from the policy - something that Butry says is a decision from the state level. He says school districts can't implement a policy that forces students to wear a uniform.

From an industry perspective, Buesing says that cost has played a role in decisions regarding uniforms in individual districts. He says buying school uniforms for a year is often cheaper for parents, when compared to the cost of buying a variety of clothing items. Buesing says in tough economic times, many schools have realized that uniforms can be cheaper than fashion item