Prior to the new school year, all but 17 schools in the district had a uniform policy. Kathleen Kennedy, district spokeswoman, says the change was made in order to facilitate a safe and orderly learning environment, as well as to promote professional and responsible dress.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, school uniforms are a $1.1 billion business nationwide, with parents paying an average of $249 annually. The district wrote the new policy specifically to minimize the economic impact on families.
Kennedy says the policy allows school administrators to designate colors and styles of shirts and pants, all of which must be free of logos, labels, words and images, allowing parents to purchase the clothing at any retail outlet, including consignment and thrift stores. Additionally, any student who cannot comply with the policy for financial reasons will not be penalized for failing to wear the uniform.
Included in the policy is the requirement that each school develop procedures and criteria to assist those students, including formation of a trade or resale program on individual campuses that would minimize costs; the creation of “clothes closets”; and the ability of each school to accept donations of money or uniforms.
Russell Claus, Oklahoma City planning director, has two daughters who attend Cleveland Elementary, where a uniform policy has already been in place for several years. He doesn’t believe the policy solves the problems it is meant to address.
“The idea was that everyone would look the same, be equal, and that would make it easier to learn,” Claus says. “The real issue here is poverty, though. You have to address poverty, not dress kids in uniforms.”
Although parents and teachers nationwide seem divided, statistics indicate that schools that adopt the uniform policy fare better in terms of student behavior, learning and security. Nationwide, 95% of teachers surveyed by the U.S. Department of Education said uniforms promoted positive student behavior. Only 37% of parents said the same, however.
In terms of educational efficiency, Kennedy says that the board believes the policy will increase the focus on instruction, minimize socioeconomic differences between students and ensure equal treatment.
The survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Education showed that teachers nationwide believe the uniform policy has reduced peer pressure, minimized disruptions and distractions and improved the learning environment. On the financial side, half of the parents surveyed “strongly agreed” that the uniform policy had benefitted the financial well-being of their household.