The Issues: School Uniforms

Candidates running in the Nov. 8 Benicia Unified School District board election answer questions posed by Benicia Patch with input from readers.

Anyone walking around a public school in Benicia can see a wide range of clothing choices.  At the high school and to a lesser extent at the middle school, kids walk a fine line between stylish and overly provocative.  Messages on shirts can offend some while making others laugh. 

Some in the community believe the solution is school uniforms.  Some of the reasons uniforms are considered a good alternative are they lower the cost of clothing for parents, it helps identify visitors to the campus and it de-emphasizes economic disparities.

Today’s question: (from a reader) How do you feel about school uniforms?

The concept of uniforms has merit, however, many of the reasons public schools mandate uniforms are not as prevalent in BUSD.  For example: gangs.  However, we must stay diligent to ensure the reasons we may require uniforms don't occur. We must focus on safety, curriculum and opportunities, as well as ensure our parent groups maintain a voice in the education process.  These issues are especially important at the middle and high schools.

I think if a lot of time is being wasted by enforcing the school policies on clothes then we should look into uniforms. I would like to see that all sites are enforcing the rules establish (or as heard many times at the Middle School) No Bellies, No Boobs, No Butts, and I would add that we don’t need to see your underwear or bra straps.

As one parent pointed out:  school uniforms can save money for parents. Especially when torn, ragged, faded designer jeans can cost $65.00 per pair.  And from a school behavioral point of view, school uniforms can ease the student's concern over what to wear, and how to look, and the distraction that clothing rivalry can cause. 

From a disciplinary point of view, uniforms lower needs for supervision based on proper school clothing rules.   However, I don't think that uniforms are usually the plan of choice for large  school populations.  Parents, staff and students should all weigh in on any plan for uniforms.

There are circumstances under which school uniforms are an appropriate and valuable tool to combat issues such as gang violence, property theft, and other serious safety concerns.  During my time working with the DC Public Schools, I saw this policy enforced firsthand.  In my view, however, Benicia Unified is not facing these challenges to a degree that would warrant adopting a mandatory school uniform policy.

Bruce Rockwell October 06, 2011 at 02:17 PM
As a teacher at a public high school that has a demographic similar to Benicia High, I can tell you first hand that dress codes are a real burden from the standpoint of enforcement. As a male teacher, I know perfectly well what kind of accusations I open myself up to ("why are you looking at my daughter in that way anyway?"), and I simply will never enforce these policies. The blunt weapon of sexual harassment enforcement is not something that I (or any other male teacher that I work with) am willing to risk my career on, on account of something like this. All male teachers know this, and few of us are going to put our necks on the line here. A lot of the female teachers won't put their energies here either, basically leaving it up to administration to deal with. Trust me, even in a quality school like Benicia High, dress code enforcement takes up way too much time than it merits. Uniforms make a lot of sense even if you don't have gangs. It has been shown repeatedly that uniforms increase academic achievement and decrease a host of cultural problems. It's not just the ghetto schools that benefit from uniforms. Turning this issue around, the real question becomes: is there any legitimate benefit (from the standpoint of educating kids) to NOT having uniforms? I have yet to hear any reason that would trump the greater benefits of academic achievement, decreased group rivalries and social tensions, and lower costs for families that uniforms bring to ANY school.
Michael Cooley October 06, 2011 at 03:36 PM
I would certainly concur with Bruce. There is way too much crap that teachers have to put up with. Uniforms make a lot of sense. It is too bad that none of the candidates have the common sense to support it.
Alicia October 06, 2011 at 04:17 PM
To the parents who think uniforms are good because they're less money: if your kid wants to buy the expensive pants themselves with their own money, why not? if they want you to buy it for them and you think it's too expensive, YOU DON'T HAVE TO BUY IT FOR THEM. jeez you CAN say no... and personally, i think that if they want to have uniforms, it's going to take MORE time to enforce it, because they honestly don't enforce the dress code they have now. there were MANY times last year i wore spaghetti strapped shirts, and no one cared. i don't think the shirts were overly revealing, but if they want to make it stricter to the extreme, well, they're going to have to care A LOT more than they do now.
Gretchen Burgess October 06, 2011 at 04:22 PM
As a parent, I would love to see the Middle School and High School switch to uniforms! All you have to do is drive by the High School when school is being let out to see how much it is needed. If many of the children spent half the time that they spend on what to wear to school the next day, working on their homework, their grades would reflect the change within weeks. I must agree with Bruce, what argument is there to not have uniforms?
The Gateway October 06, 2011 at 04:56 PM
I totally agree with Bruce, especially since the current dress code (whatever it is!) is not being enforced. And I find it somewhat amusing that the candidates for school board are completely unaware, apparently, that we do, indeed, have gang activity in Benicia. - Chris
Karen LaRiviere October 06, 2011 at 07:02 PM
I agree with just about everyone weighing in on the arguments in favor of uniforms. I remember when my son was in 6th grade, he had a male teacher and a girl was dressed inappropriately (yes even in 6th grade), the male teacher had to leave his class, go to a female teacher's class to get the female teacher to leave HER class to tell the girl she had to wear a gym shirt so not only 1 class was disrupted, but 2! BMS put a new dress code in place and publicized it long before school started the next year - the howls from the parents were ridiculous. It's not like the kids had to wear potato sacks, but it was ridiculous. Every year the clothing for girls get skimpier and skimpier. The fact is, society has vamped up our girls and boys think looking like a thug is "cool" although I can't think of a more uncomfortable way to walk while your pants are hanging on the ground. The amount of time spent worrying about what to wear, who's wearing what, and the cost of clothes today is insane. Administration at BHS has ried to crack down on dress code violations this year but there are only 2 VPs and 1 Principal for 1700 kids. The time that's spent on this ridiculous issue would be completely eliminated with School Uniforms. To Alicia - if everyone is supposed to be wearing a School Uniform, it would be pretty easy to pick out the violators and the cost of uniforms are NOTHING compared to any of today's fashions. After the first couple of weeks, everyne should be on board.
JB Davis (Editor) October 06, 2011 at 08:27 PM
I hope more parents and kids weigh in on this issue. It will be interesting to see if the candidates are listening.
Alicia October 06, 2011 at 08:36 PM
if i come across wrong, sorry. anyways i'm just saying that using "today's designer clothes are so expensive for parents" as an argument doesn't make sense, seeing as parents do not have to cater to every wish of their kids. so if parents only bought the stuff that was reasonably priced, uniforms might actually be more expensive since they'd be nicer clothes rather than regular old jeans and a shirt. on a side note, i really don't mind uniforms, i just think that they should be more for private schools. it seems wrong to enforce that in public schools.
Shirin Samiljan October 06, 2011 at 08:48 PM
My son attended a school which required uniforms. I really liked it. A few thoughts from our own *personal* experiences. It's cheaper. Target sells white polos and blue, black, or khaki pants for $5 for the shirts and about $12 for the pants. Buy five outfits, do laundry on Saturday, no muss, no fuss. There's never an argument at home or school as to whether the clothes are torn/clean/appropriate, etc. Mornings are easier -- I do believe that getting into a school uniform tells the brain that it's a school day, and that there's a schedule and a structure that starts when your feet hit the floor. This attitude lasts until the kids get home and change into their "at home" clothes. Forget about gangs for a second, it just reduces snarkiness and clichishness all over. Yes, kids will still finds way to personalize the uniform or to say, "Our group wears our shirt THIS way to show that we're part of the in crowd" but it's a lot more subtle. It helps if the entire staff goes along with the uniform code too. That one's a bit tougher, but if the teachers are wearing a polo shirt and clean pants, then who are you really going to complain to? It is my undersatnding that school boards in California are not allowed to mandate a uniform. The mandate comes from the school's PTA. Once the PTA votes on their request to mandate a uniform, then the proposal goes before the board. It's entirely up to the parents to make this happen.
Shirin Samiljan October 06, 2011 at 09:14 PM
Sorry for some of the typos above (such as "if the teachers are wearing a polo shirt and clean pants, then who are you really going to complain to?" That should be whom or "to whom are you going to complain?"). Ahem. I poked around a bit -- adopting a mandatory school uniform policy isn't really as clearly spelled out as I had thought. But the common practice is to ask the PTA to vote it in. Every district I've heard of who put in a uniform policy always started from the PTA/PTSA level. Many adoptions allow for the parents to vote it out as well, as long as it's 75/25. CSBA has an article on the process from 2007: http://www.csba.org/NewsAndMedia/Publications/CASchoolsMagazine/2007/Fall/InThisIssue/UniformsAreTheyAGoodFit.aspx
Karen LaRiviere October 06, 2011 at 09:19 PM
I am not surprised that the School Board can't raise the issue, but I can't believe that the Superintendent along with the school administrators can't raise the issue as part of their "Dress Code Policy." What happens in a district where gang violence really is a problem and there isn't much PTA involvement? Does the district need to wait around and hope that people get involved? I can see where parent, student and teacher input would be very important, but if that's the only way the issue could be brought before the Board, that doesn't seem to make sense.
"The Black Panther of Poetry" October 06, 2011 at 10:28 PM
I agree with uniforms and I don't think that in its' entirety, they are a bad ideal. Here is what I think is the under-lying reasoning behind against uniforms. We Americans' hold our ability to be free(or at least think we are) very personal. Ergo, today uniformed clothing maybe tomorrow, uniformed thinking, uniformed eating, uniformed clubs(cliches' and segregation), uniformed parents making uniformed babies (superior race), etc, etc. This is what I think is the fight against uniforms for school kids, albeit; it would save on money, time and help with discipline and a few other benifits to and for society as a whole. Of course this is just my opinion in a nut shell but it is how I feel about this issue!!! That's all from me on this issue for now, Paul Harvey, sorry I meant Bobby Richardson, GOOD DAY!!!
Bruce Rockwell October 07, 2011 at 04:21 AM
Alicia, I understand what you're saying about the parents giving in to pressure from their teens to buy ridiculously expensive or inappropriate clothes - the parents can just say no! And honestly, the fact that uniforms are less expensive for parents is not one of the most compelling reasons to have uniforms. I see it as more of a side benefit. But as extra fees for participating in sports, art classes, choir, and band, etc., are stacking up left and right, it's a benefit worth mentioning and putting on the table. But your assumption that uniforms will take more time to enforce than a dress code is simply not well thought out. Unlike dress codes that place male teachers in the dangerous position of making judgments about cleavage, mini-skirts, and underwear showing, all teachers can equally and easily enforce a uniform - nobody can get away with trying to push any boundaries, because the uniform simply doesn't provide for that little measure of rebellion. A student is wearing the uniform or they aren't. If a student isn't wearing the uniform they get sent home. Simple. And when schools have uniforms, the reality is that students DON'T come to school wearing something other than their uniform. They just don't, and that takes the enforcement problem almost completely off the table so teachers can teach and administrators can administer.
Marnix A. van Ammers October 07, 2011 at 02:15 PM
I remember in school, some 50 years ago, being required to have a belt and to have my shirt tucked in and how ridiculous I thought those rules were. On the other hand, I don't remember any peer pressure to dress a particular way. If I were a student today, in the current environment, I think I'd like it for all students to wear a uniform. That way, I wouldn't have to think about what I should wear to appeal to any particular clique. That it makes things easier for my parents' pocketbook would just be another plus.
JB Davis (Editor) October 07, 2011 at 04:44 PM
I was talking to a father and daughter about school uniforms this morning. The daughter seemed surprised when I recounted the story of a boy being sent home from school for having long hair. That was probably 1967 or 68 in Virginia Beach. her father was telling about having to always have his shirt tucked in at school. When I was in high school the basic uniform was Levi's and a hawaiian shirt. And the fight over hair length was with my dad, not the principal.
Liz Edwards October 07, 2011 at 05:29 PM
I'm in favor of school uniforms. I think it would help the "cliqueyness" in BMS. And I bet it would make our mornings much easier! And improving academic performance would be a nice benefit. What's not to like?
Judith Tata October 10, 2011 at 08:17 AM
In response to Matt Donahue; You are right, we don't have gang problems. But that is only one variable. There are many other reasons why we should be looking at school uniforms. Uniforms are a good idea because: they help promote unity, school pride, reduce competition, less costly than most clothes, help with discipline, reduce distraction, and prepare for real life. (Many workplaces today require uniforms and/or some type of identification of belonging...) I know people say uniforms curb individuality, but I disagree. Looking like everyone else, kids will have to work hard on developing what's on the inside - such as individuality and personality. If you start kids in uniforms in elementary schools, it will be a non-issue by the time they get to middle and high school. Seems pretty straight-forward to me.
Bruce Rockwell October 10, 2011 at 02:00 PM
That's exactly right. Uniforms don't curb individuality. Students gain attention for reasons other than sexual provocation or counter-culture identification. School uniforms focus individual expression in more healthy directions. And actually, if uniforms are initially controversial in high school, such controversies leading up to and surrounding the decision are a mile wide and an inch deep. It's a tempest in a teapot. It will pretty much be a non-issue by the second or third week of classes.
Gary Wing October 12, 2011 at 03:28 PM
I am paying attention and think if the students can't obey the dress policy and teachers/staff are spending time enforcing the policy then we need to look into uniforms. I read the comment about male teachers and female students and agree that they are put in a spot that they don't need to be in and shouldn't have to stop class to get a female teacher to enforce the dress policy. Maybe uniforms are the direction we need to go so time can be used for teaching and not enforcing the dress code.


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