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School uniform policies deserve a discussion

Published: Thursday, April 25, 2013 10:40 a.m. CDT

As I was reading through all the comments on the Daily News’ Facebook page yesterday in regard to the new policy at Woodrow Wilson Elementary (all 99 of them — you guys take your Facebook commenting seriously!) there was one particular item that seemed to be mentioned over and over again by parents.

It’s somewhat of a controversial issue, but I figured I’d share my extensive expereince with this subject and, perhaps, offer a bit of insight.

School uniforms.

Did you shudder a little bit upon reading that? If you did, you know exactly how I felt in the middle of my sixth grade year when it seemed that all my school’s administration could talk about was just that: school uniforms.

Cue the endless waves of complaints from the entire Holy Cross Grade School student body.

Up until that year, my school had relied upon a dress code (and a pretty strict one, at that) to ensure its pupils looked their best upon arriving at school each day. While jeans were allowed, no tank tops, graphic tees or skimpy clothing was permitted.

However, a new pastor was all it took to convince HC to finally take the leap into requiring all students to dress in identical Columbia blue polos and navy blue pants.

I hated it. Well, I did at first anyway. As I moved through the rest of junior high and graduated onto high school, I slowly (and despite my stubborn attitude toward the situation) began to appreciate the system’s simplicity.

Unlike many of my friends, whose high schools merely prohibited the skimpiest of clothing, the only decision I had to make each morning was between my white and navy dress shirts. I never had to stress about being “in style” or keeping up appearances.

I actually distincly remember getting dressed for my first day of classes at Iowa State and feeling a little lost, thinking, ‘OK, but what do I wear?’

Looking back, I realize uniforms might have saved me a bit more grief had I been required to wear them all along (specifically the superficial teasing I endured in Mrs. Applegate’s fourth-grade class because I couldn’t fit into clothes from Aeropostale and Abercrombie), but I valued the equalizing power they held among me and my adolescent peers.

I know this notion seems like a cliche, but more times than not, it’s true — and not just for private schools. The South Bend Community School Corporation serves as a great model for this system. With an enrollment totalling more students than Newton has residents at 21,570, I realize the comparison is somewhat of a stretch, but bear with me.

It all began in 2003 with a handful of South Bend’s magent schools voluntarily implementing uniform policies, soon followed by many of the district’s primary and intermediate schools. It was Washington High School’s decision to implement a uniform policy in 2007, however, that emphasized what an effective tool uniform dress codes could be.

Of South Bend’s four high schools, Washington had the highest concentration of not only problems with various distractions in school (not unlike those of concern at Woodrow Wilson), it also had the highest concentration of lower socioeconomic status families. In short, that translated to a lot of grief if you didn’t have the “right” brand of shoes of backpack.

Assistant Principal Byron Sanders had enough of this, and came up with a uniform policy where everything from shoes — which couldn’t display any sort of brand information — to collared shirts were just that: uniform.

Now, I don’t necessarily advocate for such a system here in Newton. I’ve been here a mere seven months and it’s not my place to rally for a change in a system that I assume has worked rather well since its inception.

As parent after parent suggested implementing a uniform system, however, I couldn’t help but think the issue deserves a serious and civil discussion. After witnessing such systems’ positive effects firsthand, I have no doubt that the concept of uniforms deserves a place in the current conversation.

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